Palo Alto Unified School District is considering the adoption of an ethnic studies graduation requirement, which would start with the Class of 2029. The district staff presented this proposal to the school board, giving them the option to choose between the classes of 2028, 2029, or 2030.
The school board expressed a preference for the Class of 2029, as it would provide sufficient time to implement ethnic studies as a graduation prerequisite. Board Vice President Jesse Ladomirak mentioned the importance of relying on experts to ensure a well-executed transition and stated that he wanted this change to happen as soon as possible.
Nicole Chiu-Wang, co-president of the Palo Alto Chinese Parents Club, emphasized the urgency of implementing the requirement to help students better understand the world and address racism in schools. She encouraged the board not to delay the decision.
The board is expected to approve the new graduation requirement during its meeting on October 10, 2023.
The district recognizes the value of diversity and believes that understanding different backgrounds can foster appreciation for differences. Currently, the district offers ethnic studies as an elective course, and this proposed requirement would align with the state’s timeline for making ethnic studies mandatory.
In 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 101 into law, mandating that all public high schools offer ethnic studies starting in the 2025–26 academic year. Students would need to complete one semester of the course to graduate, a requirement effective for those graduating in 2030.
Students could fulfill this requirement by taking an approved ethnic studies course or by selecting a course based on the State Department of Education’s ethnic studies model curriculum. This curriculum introduces high school students to concepts they might not encounter until college.
To address these changes, Palo Alto Unified formed the Ethnic Studies Committee, which includes social science teachers, instructional leads, and administrators. Nearby, the Mountain View Los Altos Union district has already approved ethnic studies as a graduation requirement for its ninth-graders, starting this school year.
Ethnic studies is described as the interdisciplinary examination of race and ethnicity, focusing on the experiences of people of color in the United States. It covers various themes and topics, including Mexican American texts, the implications of imperialism on Southeast Asian war refugees, and African American social movements.
While ethnic studies is important for recognizing diverse experiences, its implementation has faced controversies. Some groups have criticized the curriculum for its emphasis on certain topics, while others have felt excluded from the material.
Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin clarified that the district is not adopting the controversial aspects of the state’s model curriculum but rather modifying and enhancing the existing course. The district is also seeking input from groups with concerns about the model curriculum.
Ethnic studies emerged during the civil rights era of the 1960s and played a crucial role in recognizing the history and experiences of ethnic minorities in the United States.
Additionally, the school district is taking steps to address behavioral issues among students by strengthening its behavior intervention program, which includes hiring new specialists and providing training for teachers and staff to manage student behavioral challenges.