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For a while now some educators, parents and alumni have been voicing concerns over what they describe as a lack of adequate education in Orange County schools about Black history and communities of color.

They have been pushing school districts to change course offerings and provide a greater emphasis on teaching ethnic studies classes

This movement gained momentum in the wake of global protests last year over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, which sparked a national discourse on how to make educational institutions more equitable and inclusive.

High schools in Santa Ana, Anaheim, Irvine, Garden Grove and Laguna Beach already offer ethnic studies classes.

Los Alamitos Unified School District might be next to offer an ethnic studies course for eleventh and twelfth graders. The board of education will vote on approval of the new course Tuesday at its 6:30 p.m. meeting. Meanwhile, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District is looking to offer a course at its high schools as well.

The public will be able to view the Los Alamitos board session live on YouTube.

Assistant Superintendent Ondrea Reed said at a district board of education workshop held earlier this month that the course will educate students on the history of race, ethnicity and culture through both historical documents and contemporary events.

“Central to the course is the historic struggle of communities of color, taking into account the intersectionality of identity, gender, class, ability and sexuality,” Reed said.

Board member Megan Cutuli said it was a great idea.

“I think we really need it. I’ve been saying for years when I get into discussions with people, victors always write history, it doesn’t mean it’s accurate but the victors write the history so this is, I think, a great way for everyone to see the world through multiple viewpoints,” said Cutuli at the workshop.

Ethnic Studies in California & Orange County

A state assembly bill vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September would have required ethnic studies to become a graduation requirement for high school students in California. Newsom said in his veto message that he values ethnic studies but believes the bill needs to be revised to be more balanced, fair and inclusive of all communities.

The bill was reintroduced in December as Assembly Bill-101.

Santa Ana Unified School District created such a graduation requirement on its own last year. The criteria will apply to ninth graders entering high school in the 2022-23 academic school year. 

Reed said Los Alamitos Unified School District has been lucky to look at what other districts in the county offering ethnic studies are doing.

“Many districts like Anaheim Union High School District have had long standing ethnic study courses so really we’re able to kind of tap on our neighbors, really learning from their reflection and their history of teaching these courses to help guide us to put forward a very robust program,” Reed said.

Community Debates Ethnic Studies at Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified

One district that has yet to offer ethnic studies courses at all its high schools is the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District.

Last July, the board of trustees unanimously approved a resolution condemning racism and promising to implement an ethnic studies course for the district’s high schools following a petition and pressure from some educators, parents and alumni to reform the curriculum.

“The district is in the process of reviewing several existing ethnic studies courses,” reads a statement from the district sent to the Voice of OC. “Once a course is identified, it will go through an extensive review process before going to the Board of Education for approval.”

For four years the district has partnered with Fullerton College to offer such classes to high school students.

“Over 80 PYLUSD students have opted to participate in ethnic studies courses as a result of this partnership including Chicano/a Studies both semesters this school year as well as Asian Pacific American History last semester. Course offerings vary each semester,” reads the statement.

Still, some have been worried about racism in Placentia and Yorba Linda.

Leah Davis, a parent in the district, discussed a concern at the Feb. 9 board meeting during public comments that her daughter expressed to her when asked to go to school alone.

“She told me that she could not fathom walking alone to school without me or her father because she was scared — scared of what might happen to her being Black in this community,” Davis recounted.

During her campaign last year, newly-elected Placentia-Yorba Linda Trustee Leandra Blades  criticized what she called a “Black Lives Matter Curriculum.”

“There is a push for socialism, transgender studies, teaching of multi genders, the theory that white people are racist and have privilege, defunding of the police, and the disruption of the nuclear family. This is only a small example of what could come across our children’s desks in school,” she wrote in a Facebook post in October. “We need to return to the traditional curriculum and leave all politics and social justice issues out of the classrooms.” 

Some parents agree with Blades. Others don’t.

Parent Natalie Cruz said the district is behind others in the county who offer such courses and that it should be a mandatory class.

“Why haven’t we educated people when they were younger? I think there’s a lot of disinformation out there about ethnic studies,” Cruz said. “This is probably the first and most important thing that we need to do to teach people about what racism is and how to dismantle the system.”

Meanwhile in Los Alamitos, board members and district staff are interested in expanding courses like these to other grades as well.

If approved, the district’s goal is to make the course for high school seniors and juniors available for the 2021-2022 school year.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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