State Schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond speaking to the press Aug. 14 about the state's proposed high school ethnic studies curriculum. (From left) Assemblyman Marc Berman, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Thurmond, Senator Ben Allen, Assemblyman Jose Medina (Photo/Facebook-Abby Porth)
State Schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond speaking to the press Aug. 14, 2019, about the state's high school ethnic studies curriculum. (From left) Assemblymember Marc Berman, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Thurmond, Sen. Ben Allen, Assemblymember Jose Medina (Photo/Facebook-Abby Porth)

Jews ‘must be included’ in ethnic studies curriculum, says state schools chief at press conference

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California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said during a press conference on Wednesday morning that Jewish Americans “must be included” in a controversial ethnic studies curriculum for high school.

“Jews are being attacked at this time in synagogues,” Thurmond said in the media room at the California Department of Education in Sacramento. “Acts of hate are happening against the Jewish people. They must be included.”

The press conference was called in response to negative public feedback received since the draft curriculum was released for comment in June, but particularly in the past few weeks.

Jewish lawmakers said the model reflected an “anti-Jewish bias.” Members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus spoke at the conference, including caucus chair Ben Allen of Los Angeles County, vice chair Jesse Gabriel of the San Fernando Valley, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara and Assembly member Marc Berman of Palo Alto, among others.

“It is critically important that we don’t pit groups against each other,” said Berman, a former Palo Alto city council member who took statewide office in 2016. “I want to thank the superintendent … for making sure that the final draft of the curriculum represents the experiences of Californians.”

Allen, who supported the original 2016 law signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown that mandated the creation of a high school ethnic studies curriculum, said in a statement that there was more to do, but that he was hopeful about the final product.

“We appreciate the strong support we have received from state leaders in response to our concerns about the flawed draft curriculum,” he said in a statement. “While there is much more work to be done, we are confident that the State Board of Education is committed to developing an inclusive and accurate ethnic studies curriculum.”

Gabriel added, “Issues of anti-Semitism are not theoretical to our community. These are not issues of history, these are things we are facing right now.”

The public comment period ends Aug. 15. The Instructional Quality Commission, an oversight body within the State Board of Education, is scheduled to revise the draft, based on public input, by Sept. 20. By law, the State Board of Education’s deadline for adopting the curriculum is March 31.

Approximately 1.2 million Jews live in the state, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. A report from the California Department of Justice released earlier this year showed that anti-Semitic incidents increased 21 percent in 2018.

During an interview with J. on Tuesday, Thurmond said he would be making strong recommendations to the Instructional Quality Commission to add content about Jewish Americans and anti-Semitism that were absent from the draft, and to bring balance to its discussion of Israel.

Thurmond said he would recommend that the state board add content about “the contributions of Jewish Americans in the struggle for justice,” including in “the struggle for civil rights, and for human rights.”

Jackson, a member of the Jewish caucus and a former chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, said it was important for the high school curriculum to engage in some way with the history of American Jews.

“The Jewish experience in this country has been to promote rights and equality for all people,” she said at the press conference. “To see a curriculum that excludes our experience is a problem. I am pleased that we are standing up and recognizing we need to teach this, and it is critically important that we get this right.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.