Napa Valley Unified School District offices at the original Napa Union High School. (Photo/
Napa Valley Unified School District offices at the original Napa Union High School. (Photo/

Napa schools reverse course on ‘liberated’ ethnic studies contract

Days after the Napa Valley school board approved a $38,000 contract with the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Coalition, the school district decided not to move forward with the arrangement.

The district told J. about its decision Monday. On Friday, J. had published a story describing controversy surrounding Liberated, a consulting group that has been criticized for its far-left politics and for leveling sharp criticisms against Israel and pro-Israel Jewish organizations.

Liberated has found itself at odds with mainstream Jewish organizations and members of the Jewish community during the yearslong debate over ethnic studies in California — though it was not clear whether complaints raised by the Jewish community were a cause of the decision.

For its part, Liberated co-founder Theresa Montaño refuted Napa Valley’s claim that the school district was the one to break off the agreement:

“LESMC decided not to move forward,” Montaño wrote to J.

Pat Andry-Jennings, assistant superintendent of the Napa Valley Unified School District, issued the following statement to J.:

“NVUSD does not discriminate against any person or group of individuals and that includes the Jewish community. Although the board did approve the contract last month, we have since decided not to move forward with this consultant for our high school ethnic studies curriculum. This decision was based on a situation related to a local Napa ethnic studies group. Again, we are committed to equity and inclusion and bringing quality curriculum to our 16,400 students in the Napa Valley Unified School District.”

Andry-Jennings did not respond to a list of follow-up questions.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council said in the days ahead it would be meeting with school leaders and Jewish community parents.

The Liberated coalition formed in 2020 after rejecting the state’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum in favor of one it believes to be more authentically anti-racist and anti-colonial. Controversies surrounding the group reflect national debates around how to teach racism and anti-racism in schools.

Schools across the country, particularly in Democratic-controlled states, have invested heavily in diversity, equity and inclusion departments and personnel, folding lessons on racism and anti-racist education into everyday learning. Napa Valley, in approving the contract with Liberated last month, said the agreement aligned with a district-wide goal “aimed at increasing institutional access to historically underserved groups” and “creating a community of inclusion for all students.”

Critics worry that lessons in ethnic studies or other similar courses focus too heavily on race, or that their underlying goal is to indoctrinate students into progressive politics. The Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies, an activist group formed in opposition to an early draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, said that certain forms of ethnic studies “impose a narrow ideology, polarize students, sow bigotry, and glorify violent movements.”

Liberated has positioned itself squarely on the left flank of the debate, embracing unapologetically, for example, the use of critical race theory as a useful framework by which to understand racism in America. Liberated also promotes controversial training methods, such as separating white teachers from teachers of color in order to better analyze and critique white privilege.

On Israel, Liberated has aligned itself with members of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and, in response to criticism in 2020 and 2021 from Jewish and pro-Israel groups, published a scathing anti-Israel statement on its website, which it has since deleted.

Liberated has found some success implementing its ethnic studies curricula in California.

In January, the Castro Valley school board approved an agreement worth $82,560 for teacher training and curriculum development from the group, despite some complaints from members of the Jewish community. Last year, the Alameda County Office of Education contracted with Liberated for $9,525, according to county records, co-hosting a virtual session in December for school leaders. Last June, the Hayward Unified School District said its ethnic studies framework would be “informed by” the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. It was not clear whether Hayward had hired consultants from the organization.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

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