Anaheim Union High School District officials are committing to continue their Arabic program at Western High School – the only one of its kind in Orange County – for at least one more year after pressure from students and community members to save the class.

The district is seeking support from the Qatar Foundation International, a global organization based in Washington D.C. that aims to support Arabic language education through teacher training and grantmaking, to keep the program alive.

Michael Matsuda, the district’s superintendent, said in a statement that the district is committed to provide students with opportunities to learn different languages

“The continuation of the Arabic World Language program is a testament to that commitment,” Matsuda said. “We look forward to working with our community partners to ensure that the Arabic program continues to thrive.”

Matsuda did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but previously told Voice of OC that an additional funding source would be needed to keep the program alive.

[Read: What’s the Future of Orange County’s First Arabic Public School Program?]

According to a Thursday email from district spokesman John Bautista, Qatar Foundation International has agreed to pay for half of the costs of the course while the district will cover the other half to keep the program going for at least one more year.

Will the Grant Come Through?

Julie Sylla, director of programs for the Qatar Foundation, wrote in a Friday email that the district has applied for a standard school grant and notes the process is not guaranteed.

“QFI is currently reviewing the 2023-2024 academic year School Grant applications and we can’t comment on pending grant applications to ensure fairness in the application process,” Sylla wrote.

“The Grants to Schools Program is review-based, not guaranteed, and doesn’t fully fund but supports the establishment and growth of in-school, credit-bearing programs.”

Bautista did not respond to questions about what happens if the grant doesn’t come through.

The decision to maintain the Arabic class comes less than a month since Voice of OC reported on the district’s plan to cut the program due to what Matsuda said was low enrollment in the course as well as the drying up of federal COVID funds.

For some students enrolled in the program, the class does more than help them learn Arabic – one of the most widely spoken languages in the world – it makes them feel understood and provides them a home on campus.

Over 2,600 letters from students and community members were sent to the district through an online effort started by the Arab American Civic Council to mobilize people to advocate for keeping the class.

[Read: An Arabic High School Program in OC is Getting Cut; Students Push to Save It]

Lina Mousa, the Arabic teacher, said the program is key for Arab students to feel welcome.

“Closing the Arabic language program sends a message to our students that their cultural heritage is not valued or respected,” Mousa said in a text message Thursday.

In a Thursday phone interview, Mousa said she contacted the Qatar Foundation International to let them know the program was coming to an end.

Mousa said she’s partnered with the organization in the past while working at Bell High School in Los Angeles – where Qatar Foundation International funds half the expenses of the Arabic program there.

“Our school district has a diverse student body, and we should strive to provide them with opportunities to learn about and embrace each other’s cultures. The Arabic language program plays a critical role in achieving this goal,” she said in a text message.

A Community Advocates for the Arabic Program 

Matsuda, the school district superintendent, met with leaders from the Council on American Islamic Relations – Greater Los Angeles (CAIR–LA) and the Arab American Civic Council, two Anaheim-based community organizations, last week to discuss the issue.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations – Greater Los Angeles, said the district’s decision will allow community groups like his to promote the class and give the program another shot at success.

“This is what’s going to allow us to sustain and grow the program,” Ayloush said in a Thursday phone interview. “I don’t think that it got a fair chance because of COVID, because of lack of full support and marketing.”

He said now they have a second chance with the program.

And a marketing plan.

“We will just introduce the program, help market at mosques, businesses, at community events, on social media and we are pretty confident this would lead to more students signing up for the classes,” Ayloush said.

The Arabic program at Western High started in 2018, with support from Ayloush’s organization who raised the seed money for the program.

Ayloush said the program was able to be saved because of students and parents’ efforts to save the course,and the district’s willingness and openness to look for a solution.

Rashad Al-Dabbagh, Executive director and founder of the Arab American Civic Council, expressed gratitude to the Anaheim Union High District and Qatar Foundation International for saving the program in a news release Friday.

“Cutting the Arabic language program would have harmed many students who benefit from learning Arabic at Western High School,” reads his statement.

Last year, the Anaheim City Council voted to recognize a part of Brookhurst Street in West Anaheim as Little Arabia after decades of advocacy from the Arab American Civic Council, CAIR–LA, various community organizations, business owners and residents.

[Read: “Little Arabia Exists”: Anaheim Officially Recognizes America’s First Arab American District]

Ayloush said despite the district’s previous decision to cut the class being based on finance, many in the community thought it was punishment for asking for the Little Arabia designation.

He added it would have been hard for district officials to sway people that it wasn’t a political decision.

“We’re still dealing with an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab climate in this country and after so many years of struggle, we barely got our city to recognize that we exist through the Little Arabia recognition,” he said.

“It would have been a really heartbreaking moment for the community.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.


Since you’ve made it this far,

You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford, but it’s not free to produce. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.