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A day ahead of a forum sponsored by the Orange County Board of Education about how history is taught in America, one prominent panelist is dropping out saying the board’’s ethnic studies forum features a stacked array of experts, one that won’t contribute to an honest dialogue about the issue.

“Not a single person on this panel is a dedicated expert in, nor in my judgement thoroughly knowledgeable about, Ethnic Studies curriculum. In fact, my research reveals that all the panelists are vehemently opposed to Ethnic Studies and have made their positions on the topic clear,” said Theresa Montaño in a Monday news release. 

Montaño, a Chicana/Chicano Studies professor at Cal State Northridge, said the lack of expertise and one-sided nature of a majority of panelists caused her to resign just one day before the scheduled forum.

“Because this panel is not composed of experts nor are their points of view diverse, this panel will not effectively inform the community or build meaningful dialogue about Ethnic Studies. Therefore, I must regretfully decline the invitation to speak at your event on July 27th,” Montaño said in a news release from Truth in Education, a community group of local parents, students, educators and clergy.

That group is slated to hold a news conference tomorrow where Montaño will make full remarks in opposition to the board’s planned forum.

According to the group, the conference is intended to raise awareness about the board’s practice of using taxpayer funded forums to promote “far right” agendas.

“I’m disappointed we’re hearing the day before that she’s not going to participate. I think the credentials of the other panelists speak for themselves. We have a bipartisan group there’s Democrats and Republicans. They are law professors, military backgrounds — looking at their qualifications, Ph.D from Harvard. I mean it’s not like they’re slouches,” Tim Shaw, a trustee on the board said in a Monday phone interview.

He added her reasoning doesn’t justify withdrawing and she should have argued her point during the forum.

“If they come across as a bunch of slouches, then that’s how you make your point. I don’t think you make your point by saying I’m just not walking in the room,” he said, adding that he was unsure if Montaño would be replaced.

Theresa Montaño is a Professor in the Chicana/Chicano Studies Department at Cal State Northridge. Credit: Courtesy of Theresa Montaño

It’s not the first time the OC Board of Education has faced criticism stemming from a panel.

Last summer, the board of education put out a controversial white paper with recommendations from a panel of experts on how students should return to school based on a panel of experts it hosted which recommended that schools reopen without social distancing or requiring masks

But days after that paper was released, multiple members of the panel disavowed it, saying they were not consulted on the final product. 

Instead, the report was written by Ken Williams Jr., then-president of the board of education, and Will Swaim, president of the nonprofit California Policy Center. 

Neither Williams nor Swaim were acknowledged as authors in the report released to the public.

[ Read: Panel Experts Walk Away From Controversial OC Board Of Education Reopening Guidelines ]

Concerns were raised that the panelists and the public commenters at that meeting were cherry picked to speak against public health measures.

One year later — similar concerns are being raised by some parents regarding the panelists picked for the ethnic studies forum who worry the panel will amplify misinformation on such courses.

“I am disappointed that the panelists selected for the forum are clearly not experts on Ethnic Studies or representative of our community. It seems they were chosen specifically because they are anti-Ethnic Studies rather than open to dialogue and education,” Sapna Chopra, an Orange County Parent and Truth in Education member said in the news release.

Williams, who has raised some concerns on ethnic studies and critical race theory, had not heard about the resignation until the Voice of OC reached out.

Last week, however, Board President Mari Barke expressed confidence in the diversity of thought the panel will provide and said the forum was intended to inform the public on ethnic studies.

[ Read: OC Board of Education to Host Ethnic Studies Forum Amid Misinformation Concerns ]

The OC Board of Education’s forum will include the following panelists, according to a media advisory sent to the Voice of OC:

The forum will take place from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and can be attended in person at the board’s offices in Costa Mesa or streamed live on YouTube

Trustees are holding the forum amid a fiery debate in Orange County and across the country on how history should be taught in America.

Some local parents have said the ethnic studies debate has been plagued with misinformation and for some there is no room for debate. They want students of color reflected through the curriculum with ethnic studies classes.

Other parents are worried that these classes will be filled with political indoctrination, marxist and anti-American ideals as well teach all white people are racist while victimizing students of color.

[ Read: Orange County Parents And Students Confront Ethnic Studies; School Districts Look to Potentially Expand Offerings ]

It also comes as local school districts are adding elective ethnic studies classes to their curriculum and some even moving forward with implementing the course as a graduation requirement — which state lawmakers are considering for high schoolers across California.

The Board’s next ethnic studies forum is scheduled for Aug. 24, 2021.

Update: An earlier version of the story identified Walter Myers III as a registered Republican based on a news release sent to the Voice of OC from Orange County Board of Education President Mari Barke. Myers is not a registered Republican.

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

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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