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 school district defends use of offshoot ‘liberated’ ethnic studies group

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The Hayward Unified School District defended its decision to contract with the Liberated Ethnic Studies consortium this week, saying it would still be using the much worked-over, state government approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum — which was cleared of anti-Israel sentiment over a yearslong revision process — but supplementing it with “other resources to help support our educational services and professional development.”

The statements came as Jewish pro-Israel organizations spoke out against the East Bay public school district’s contract with Liberated, a group of 15 educators whose motto is “Real Ethnic Studies” and whose founders sat on the state’s advisory committee that oversaw the controversial first draft of California’s ethnic studies curriculum model, which included support for the BDS movement.

Instructors with Liberated over the past two years have opposed efforts by pro-Israel groups and others to apply a more politically moderate lens to ethnic studies, the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity focusing on people of color, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law last year requiring California high schools to offer the course by 2025.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing the formation of a Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Oct. 2021. (Photo/JTA-Courtesy Newsom's office)
Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing the formation of a Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Oct. 2021. (Photo/JTA-Courtesy Newsom’s office)

Last summer, in the midst of public sparring with groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council, Liberated published a scathing anti-Israel statement on its website whose purpose, it said, was to prepare educators to understand and overcome “Zionist backlash” to teaching about Palestine. The statement, which has since been deleted, referred to Israeli “apartheid,” called Israel and the U.S. “white settler states” and said pro-Israel groups’ aims were to oppose “authentic anti-racist” education.

RELATED: Hayward schools sign contract with ‘liberated’ ethnic studies group

In an interview with J. last year, Liberated’s co-founders equivocated on whether the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement would factor into its ethnic studies curriculum.

BDS is “not part of the curriculum,” Theresa Montaño said at that time, adding, “I’m not saying it will not be.”

Theresa Montaño
Theresa Montaño

The Hayward school district approved the contract with Liberated unanimously and without debate on July 27.

It came as the district, which serves more than 19,000 students, has embraced an unapologetically progressive approach to certain consulting decisions — reflecting national trends in liberal-leaning states to integrate social justice perspectives more thoroughly into the classroom, even for very young students.

On the same evening the Hayward school district approved the Liberated contract, for example, it agreed unanimously to a contract with an organization called Woke Kindergarten, a consulting group that educates students as young as 5 years old on topics such as police abolition and eradicating national borders.

Woke Kindergarten describes itself as a “global, abolitionist early childhood ecosystem and visionary creative portal,” its website says, supporting “children, families, educators and organizations in their commitment to abolitionist early education and pro-black and queer and trans liberation.”

In its statement defending the Liberated Ethnic Studies contract, valued at $35,395 for teacher training and curriculum implementation beginning in the fall, HUSD said its district-wide policy is to teach ethnic studies with “fidelity” to the discipline, and that instruction on Jewish issues takes place in other classes.

OPINION: The perils of California textbooks that teach Jews are white

“HUSD strongly and unequivocally condemns all forms of hate, including racism and antisemitism,” read the Aug. 1 statement, emailed from Michael Bazeley, HUSD’s public information director. “The board policy on Ethnic Studies, adopted in June of last year, advocates for teaching Ethnic Studies with fidelity to the discipline.

“Jewish Studies and Israeli Studies are not part of the Ethnic Studies discipline. However, that will never preclude those topics from being included in other parts of our students’ curriculum, such as the teaching of U.S. history of immigration, World War II, the Holocaust, and post-World War II to present-day instances of antisemitism.”

HUSD’s response came as Jewish organizations released public statements expressing their opposition.

Seth Brysk
Seth Brysk

Seth Brysk, the director of ADL’s S.F.-based Central Pacific Region, said that Hayward Unified  had “apparently ignored guidance from California’s new Ethnic Studies law and adopted a contract with the drafters and supporters of a curriculum long ago rejected by the State Board of Education for being antisemitic and discriminatory.

“The leaders of [Liberated] produced a curriculum which contained antisemitic and extreme anti-Israel bias and excluded antisemitism from the glossary of different forms of oppression and prejudice,” Brysk continued, referring to a list of relevent terms in the first draft of the state curriculum that listed a host of forms of bias, but not antisemitism. “During a period when violence and hatred towards the Jewish community is at an all-time high, HUSD has opened the schoolhouse doors to antisemitism and bigotry.”

RELATED: Castro Valley school board approves contract with ‘liberated’ ethnic studies group

The S.F.-based JCRC, which has advocated for what it believes to be fairness in ethnic studies instruction since the state released its highly controversial early draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum in 2019, called for the Hayward school district to make “public assurances” its ethnic studies curriculum would not malign Jews or Israel. JCRC has been working with the school district, the organization said.

Tye Gregory
Tyler Gregory

“Hayward Unified’s decision isn’t a surprise,” said Tyler Gregory, JCRC’s executive director. “Like Castro Valley,” he said, referring to the adjacent district that already approved an $82,000 contract with Liberated, “district leadership has deep connections with Liberated Ethnic Studies.

“We continue to hold honest, challenging conversations with district leadership about the potential for anti-Jewish bias and how it could impact Jewish students and families in Hayward, and [we] are calling for Jewish community consultation in the process,” Gregory said. “The district must provide public assurances that its final curriculum will be unbiased and fully inclusive of the Jewish American experience.”

The American Jewish Committee also spoke out against the agreement.

Rabbi Serena Eisenberg
Rabbi Serena Eisenberg

“The LESCC repeatedly promotes biased materials that were expressly rejected by the California State legislature and Department of Education,” Rabbi Serena Eisenberg, AJC’s Northern California director, told the L.A. Jewish Journal. “AJC cautions the Hayward School District to ensure that ethnic studies courses will be taught in a balanced and inclusive manner, and not advance unlawful discrimination or a hostile environment for students of Jewish ethnic origins.”

J. correspondent Dan Pine contributed to this report.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

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