Calif. Becomes First State in U.S. to Require Ethnic Studies Course for High School Graduation

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California classroom
California classroom

Getty Students in a classroom

California is making education history.

On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill requiring all public high school students in the state to take an ethnic studies course before graduating.

The course will focus on historically marginalized ethnic and racial groups, including African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. There will also be lesson plans on Jewish, Arab, Sikh and Armenian Americans, according to NBC affiliate KNSD.

With the new law, California becomes the first state in the nation to require the course for high school graduation, The Washington Post reported.

"The inclusion of ethnic studies in the high school curriculum is long overdue. Students cannot have a full understanding of the history of our state and nation without the inclusion of the contributions and struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans," Assemblymember Jose Medina said in a statement.

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The bill will go into effect during the 2025-26 school year and require all public schools to offer at least one semester-long ethnic studies course to students in grades 9-12, according to Newsom's press release.

Students graduating in the 2029-30 school year must also complete a one-semester course in the subject to receive their high school diploma, per the release.

In the release, Newsom added that the ethnic studies legislation "will help expand educational opportunities in schools, teach students about the diverse communities that comprise California, and boost academic engagement and attainment for students." It will also "ensure that courses will be free from bias or bigotry and appropriate for all students."

The news comes six decades after students protested at San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley to demand courses be taught in African American, Chicano, Asian American and Native American studies, according to KNSD.

Over the last three years, the California Board of Education had been working to create a draft of the curriculum. After several drafts and debates, the model ethnic studies course curriculum was approved in March, per KNSD.

However, by that point, several schools across the state had already been on board with the proposal, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, which voted last year to require a course in ethnic studies as a graduation requirement by the 2023-24 school year, the outlet reported.

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"I want to acknowledge the countless young people, high school and college students, teachers and professors, who have organized, demonstrated, boycotted classes, and gone on hunger strikes to demand a more equitable and inclusive educational system," Medina said in his statement. "The signing of AB 101 today is one step in the long struggle for equal education for all students."

Secretary of State Shirley Weber said in a statement, "At a time when some states are retreating from an accurate discussion of our history, I am proud that California continues to lead in its teaching of ethnic studies."

"This subject not only has academic benefits, but also has the capacity to build character as students learn how people from their own or different backgrounds face challenges, overcome them and make contributes to American society," Weber continued. "This is a great day for California."