Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum 2020

Backgrounder and Action Alert

The Jewish Community and the ESMC


The Jewish community in California became engaged on the issue of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) last summer when the California Department of Education released a draft model curriculum for teaching Ethnic Studies in California high schools in anticipation that Ethnic Studies would become a graduation requirement. The draft contained highly-problematic content about Jews, Israelis and Israel, prompting many thousands of Jews and Jewish organizations throughout the state, including Jewish Federation of Orange County, to speak out strongly against the disturbing components of the draft. They also called out the lack of transparency on the part of the California Department of Education (CDE) and its Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) that had led to such a problematic document. This outcry, along with protests from other communities, led the Department of Education to revise the draft and to bring it into alignment with California educational standards. 


Jewish Federation of Orange County is engaged on this issue as a member of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), the largest single-state coalition of Jewish organizations in the nation. JPAC advocates in Sacramento on behalf of a diverse representation of the California Jewish community, which includes Jewish Federations and Jewish Community Relations Councils, Jewish Family Service agencies, and many other Jewish community organizations that advocate for and directly serve the California Jewish community and the people of California at large.


Over the past year, JPAC and its partners expressed deep concern to lawmakers and CDE officials. While the network supports Ethnic Studies as an important means to represent the voices of California’s diverse populations, it has made clear that the model curriculum must not cross the following red lines:


  • No denigrating content on Jews, including clear antisemitic tropes
  • No denigrating content on Israelis and Israel and/or the positive teaching about the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement
  • Antisemitism must be included in content about forms of hate and bias


Additionally, JPAC and its partners requested from the CDE clarity on the process of drafting a revised curriculum and a firm commitment to transparency so that antisemitic and anti-Israel content could not reenter the curriculum.



In early August, the CDE released a second, seemingly improved draft curriculum that appears to adhere to the red lines articulated above, even if additional work is required in order to provide a safe and representative education for all California students. One significant departure from the first draft was the CDE’s stated commitment to focus only on the four traditional groups for whom Ethnic Studies had been constituted: African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Latin Americans. JPAC and partners accepted this pedagogical direction, even though it meant that the American Jewish narrative would not be included in the curriculum, because the CDE had offered communities beyond the traditional groups pathways into the classroom outside of the Ethnic Studies framework. As a result, an earlier request to include Jewish Americans in the curriculum was dropped.


On August 12, 2020, the night before the IQC was to review the second draft, the CDE sent a highly unusual, last-minute message to the IQC Listserv announcing additional changes to the curriculum. With less than 24 hours’ notice, the CDE broke protocol by announcing the inclusion of Pacific Islanders into the curriculum and the development of a sample lesson on Arab Americans under the Asian American category. This lack of transparency raises serious concerns for the Jewish community and has resulted in a loss of trust in the process and in the word of CDE staff that may have been gained in the previous 10-12 months. As a result, JPAC and its partners revised their position to state that if the curriculum includes ethnic groups and narratives beyond the traditional groups, then the Jewish American experience must be included.


The coalition now calls for the following:  

  • The addition to the curriculum of narratives that teach about the diversity of Jewish Americans through:
    • a sample lesson that clarifies that Jewish Americans are of all races and backgrounds and not just a European immigrant group.
    • a lesson on Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) American Jews under the Asian American category.
    • a lesson on Middle Eastern Americans that includes MENA Jewish Americans, Iranian (Persian) Americans (Jewish and non-Jewish Persian-Americans), and other large California ethnic communities alongside Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans under the Asian American category.
  • The addition of safeguards to prevent the teaching of antisemitic material and favorable teaching of Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Movement through modification of the ESMC guidelines.
  • The CDE and IQC must adhere to the highest standards of transparency
  • All sections of the ESMC must be made available for 30 days of public comment.


The public has until September 30 to comment on the draft. Jewish Federation is urging the community to voice concerns to the CDE, ICQ and elected officials. Following the public comment period, the IQC will review another updated draft in November 2020 and then send it to the State Board of Education for final review. The Board must approve a final curriculum by March 31, 2021.


What You Can Do

1. Copy and paste the text below into an email and send to the Department of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission at

Dear IQC Representatives,

I write to join the numerous calls for continued improvement of the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.  I commend your removal of negative content from the initial draft and the acknowledgement that antisemitism is a form of hate.
However, if this curriculum is going to be effective and appropriate for all Californians, there must be a renewed commitment to transparency in every step of this curriculum's creation, added safeguards to what can be taught in this curriculum, and more inclusive representation for the experience of Jewish Americans and the broad spectrum of diversity within the Californian Jewish community.

To that end, I respectfully submit the following four requests of the ESMC:

  • Accurately represent Jewish American experiences and teach about antisemitism.
  • Ensure that negative language about Jews and Israel remains out of the curriculum, including but not limited to, attempts via BDS activists to delegitimize Israel.
  • Include sample lesson(s) reflecting the diversity of Jewish Americans.
  • Re-commit to transparency and the pre-determined process of writing the ESMC.

Thank you for your consideration.


2. Email your state assembly members with these requests. 

3. Call the CDE at 916-319-0243 to reiterate these requests.

4. Alternatively, you can send an automatic message to your assembly members and the IQC through this website (Note: this link will take you to a page managed by the San Francisco JCRC).




Additional Resources:

The revised ESMC can be found within in the agenda of the August 3 IQC meeting agenda

Jewish Caucus Leaders Issue Statement on Ethnic Studies Legislation

Students Should Learn About Arabs — and Jews

Community letter to Governor Newsom 


September 25, 2020


To the Hon. Gavin Newsom

Governor of the State of California

Via Email


Dear Governor Newsom:


We are writing on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, the Anti-Defamation League of Orange County/Long Beach, the Orange County Board of Rabbis, and the Rabbinic Council of Orange County, collectively serving more than 80,000 Jews in our community.  We respectfully request that you take immediate action to ensure that the California Department of Education’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) is fully appropriate for all of California’s students.  This is of extreme importance in order to avert a crisis as education is one of the most effective means of stemming the tide on all forms of hate, including racism and antisemitism. 


As the Department of Education prepares the second draft of the ESMC, we seek to ensure that the process for writing, reviewing and approving the curriculum is fully transparent. The second draft of the curriculum had been scrubbed of most of the denigrating content against Jews, Israelis and Israel, and antisemitism was added to the unit on hate. There is, however, more work to be done to ensure that the curriculum offers a safe and representative education for all California students.  Of central importance is that every element in the curriculum must be subject to a sufficient public review process in order to ensure that offensive content does not make its way back into material to be distributed to our high schools.


We ask that you communicate directly with Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond and the Members of the CA Board of Education to demand fidelity to the following:


  1. No antisemitic, anti-Israel or anti-Zionist content should be allowed back into the ESMC.
  2. All forms of antisemitism must be included in discussions of forms of bias and hate. The CDE should incorporate the widely-respected International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism into the ESMC to ensure accuracy and clarity
  3. The reemphasis of safeguards against the teaching of antisemitic material including Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) through modification of the ESMC guidelines
  4. Full transparency, including a reasonable period of public comment, for any new elements, including units or addenda that will be included in the ESMC.   


Thank you for attention to this matter.




Stephen H. Gordon, Chair of the Board and Arlene Miller, President & CEO

Jewish Federation of Orange County


Peter Levi, Regional Director

Anti-Defamation League of Orange County/Long Beach


Rabbi Richard Steinberg

Orange County Board of Rabbis


Rabbi David Eliezrie

Orange County Rabbinic Council