(CALMATTERS) – The politically fraught work of developing an ethnic studies curriculum for California public high schools just got more contentious.

In a Wednesday letter to the state Board of Education and Department of Education, the original curriculum’s authors and former advisory committee members demanded their names be removed from the text because its “guiding principles … have been compromised due to political and media pressure.” In a Facebook livestream, Allyson Tintiango-Cubales, one of the letter’s signatories, encouraged California schools to instead adopt “a liberated ethnic studies model curriculum” she plans to develop with some of the original draft’s authors.

The dramatic move comes about four years after the state Legislature mandated the creation of an ethnic studies model curriculum that interested California high schools could use to develop their own lesson plans. The curriculum has since gone through three drafts — each controversial in its own right — with the state Board of Education slated to review the final draft and public comments on March 17-18 and take final action on March 31.

After the first draft was deemed anti-Semitic, too politically correct and not inclusive enough, it was revised to encourage discussion of all identities and backgrounds while focusing on the four groups central to ethnic studies: Asian, Black, Latino and Native Americans. But even as some protested what they saw as the discipline’s dilution, others — including Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, Pacific Islanders and Sikh Americans — pushed for more representation.

The California Department of Education in a statement to me: We are “committed to creating a model curriculum that serves all of California’s students and encourages critical thinking about complex issues of race, identity and the forces that shape our lives and our society.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom in September vetoed a bill that would have made ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement, citing “much uncertainty about the appropriate … model curriculum.” The bill was reintroduced in December, though it would not require schools to adopt the model curriculum specifically.

However, Newsom did sign a bill mandating California State University students take an ethnic studies course — overriding a plan previously approved by the Board of Trustees, and causing no small controversy of its own.

By Emily Hoeven | CALMatters