Hayward Unified School District headquarters seen in 2011. (Photo/Wikimedia-Mercurywoodrose CC BY-SA 3.0)
Hayward Unified School District headquarters seen in 2011. (Photo/Wikimedia-Mercurywoodrose CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hayward schools sign contract with ‘Liberated’ ethnic studies group

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The Hayward Unified School District, which serves over 19,000 students in more than 30 schools, has approved a contract with the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium, agreeing to partner with the consulting group while implementing ethnic studies courses widely across the district.

The agreement on Wednesday comes as Liberated has found mixed success contracting with school districts throughout the state. The consortium has faced headwinds from centrist groups like the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies and pro-Israel and Jewish observers who worry about past anti-Israel statements.

Liberated, founded by educators Theresa Montaño and Guadalupe Cardona, has sparred publicly with pro-Israel groups since its launch in 2020. It formed in opposition to revisions made to a first draft of an ethnic studies model curriculum, which spoke favorably of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel and did not mention antisemitism in a glossary that included myriad forms of discriminatory biases. The approved curriculum added two lessons on Jewish Americans, absent from the first version, and removed references to BDS.

Later, Liberated published a scathing anti-Israel statement on its website (since deleted) that called the U.S. and Israel “white settler states” and said Zionism is a “colonial ideology” that calls for “the creation and expansion of Israel as a Jewish state in historic Palestine by any means necessary.”

The Hayward agreement drew condemnation from StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based, pro-Israel, antisemitism watchdog organization. Liberated has “a record of promoting antisemitism, anti-Israel narratives, and other forms of bias,” StandWithUs said.

“Giving taxpayer funds to LESMCC sends a message that the district does not care about the well-being of Jews, Israelis, or anyone who values critical thinking,” CEO Roz Rothstein added.

Liberated has denied the allegations. “Criticism of Israel’s policies of apartheid and oppression of Palestinians is not antisemitism,” Liberated wrote on its website.

The agreement comes after Napa Valley schools in May reversed course after initially approving a $38,000 contract with Liberated. At the time, school district assistant superintendent Pat Andry-Jennings said the reversal was because of “a situation related to a local Napa ethnic studies group.”

Later in May, Jewish parents and teachers in Los Angeles sued Liberated for alleged civil rights violations, with the help of a conservative activist group and pro-bono legal assistance firm the Deborah Project.

In January, Castro Valley, a district adjacent to Hayward’s, approved an $82,000 contract with Liberated over the objections of about a dozen Jewish and pro-Israel callers during a public meeting.

The Hayward decision was unanimous, and there was no debate. It came after the school district announced last year it would be expanding ethnic studies offerings across all grade levels, from preschool to 12th grade, and would make the course a graduation requirement starting in the 2022-2023 school year. The State of California also passed a law requiring high schools to offer ethnic studies by 2025.

Valued at $35,395, the Hayward contract sets out a work plan over the course of one school year beginning in September.

In June 2021 when Hayward announced its investment in ethnic studies — which news outlets reported would cost $40 million, though that figure has not been independently confirmed by J. — the school district said its curricula would be “informed by” the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. At the time, Hayward pointed to research showing ethnic studies classes in high schools led to “an increase in GPA, high school graduation rates and college-going rates,” the district wrote in a statement. A Stanford study published in 2016 showed high school ethnic studies courses improved academic performance for students at risk of dropping out.

The contract, published on the HUSD online portal, includes 14 hours of “direct service” by Liberated staff members to the district’s ethnic studies workgroup, which is responsible for designing and implementing the courses. Liberated will also provide a full day of professional development as an “introduction to ethnic studies for middle and high school teachers,” and three hours of “debriefing” with the ethnic studies workgroup, the contract abstract says.

Reached over email by J., the Hayward Unified School District declined to comment.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

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