Gov. Gavin Newsom signs AB 101, requiring ethnic studies course in public high schools

Photo of Gavin Newsom
Mike Disharoon/Creative Commons
AB 101 was signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday. The bill will require a one-semester ethnic studies course in high school diploma requirements. Photo by MikeDisharoon under CC BY-SA 2.0

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On Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 101, an education bill that will require every student at a public high school in the state to take an ethnic studies course.

Assemblymember Jose Medina introduced AB 101 to include a one-semester ethnic studies course in high school diploma requirements, starting with high school students graduating in the 2029-30 school year. The bill aims to broaden educational opportunities, teach students about the variety of communities across the state and prevent course bias. 

Campus freshman Ethan Collier said he supports AB 101 for its attempt to remove the limits of Eurocentrism and “whiteness” that he found were present in some of his high school courses.

Collier said he wished there was a similar ethnic studies requirement during his high school experience. As a queer Chicano person, he said he did not feel represented in his school curriculum. 

“Ethnic studies will allow for (students) to see all sorts of societal issues from a different lens and will allow them to become the true changemakers that our generation so desperately needs,” Collier said.

According to Berkeley Unified School District superintendent Brent Stephens, AB 101 will require school districts across California to adjust their curriculum.

Stephens said the district will implement ethnic studies in various facets of K-12 education, including elementary core curriculum and high school courses. 

He added that teachers in the district are going through related training, and BUSD is prioritizing the removal of bias. 

The bill’s concept first took shape under AB 331, which was vetoed by Gov. Newsom in 2020. Since then, AB 101 has had more success.

Campus junior Kimberly Woo, director of GENup Collegiate, a student-led organization that advocates for education reform under AB 101, attributes the bill’s recent passing to budgetary support and a model curriculum.

“The California Department of Education approved the model curriculum, which therefore gave more backing to AB 101,” Woo said. “School districts could use this model curriculum as a guide to help them create their own ethnic studies courses.”

According to Zeus Leonardo, professor at the Graduate School of Education, there is still more to learn about the implementation of the ethnic studies requirement, but it is important to begin teaching students on this subject at a young age.

He added that the approach of an ethnic studies curriculum will be informed by multiculturalism and help students of color learn about one another. 

Leonardo said communication across various groups is crucial for transforming bias into a learning opportunity. This type of dialogue starting at a young age is important for generating the “sensibilities” needed to support diversity

“It will change students’ own self-concepts (and) understanding of other populations that are not their own,” Leonardo said. “And it will give students possibilities and ideas about what they can possibly become.”

Lily Button is a general assignment reporter. Contact her at [email protected].