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Ethnic studies supporters expressed disappointment after Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have required high schoolers to take the course, while work mandated by law to develop a model curriculum for it continues apace — as does the controversy around it.

Under the bill vetoed late Wednesday, written by Assembly Member Jose Medina (D-Riverside), all public high school students in California would have had to take at least one semester of ethnic studies in order to graduate, beginning with the class of 2029-2030. A separate bill, written by former Assembly Member Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) and signed into law in 2016, requires the state to create and adopt a model curriculum for ethnic studies courses by March 31, 2021.

In his veto message, Newsom said he values the role of ethnic studies in helping students understand the experiences of marginalized communities and that he supports schools and districts offering such courses. But, he said, there was too much uncertainty about the content of the model curriculum and he wanted to be sure it “achieves balance, fairness and is inclusive of all communities.”

Since its founding half a century ago, ethnic studies has been defined as focusing on the experiences, histories and contributions of four racial/ethnic groups that have historically been marginalized and oppressed in the United States: African Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans and Indigenous peoples, and Asian Americans. Coursework emphasizes “auto-ethnography,” encourages students to “tell their own stories,” and engage in social justice, according to descriptions from curricula and teachers.

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