The politically fraught work of developing an ethnic studies curriculum for California public high schools just got more contentious.

In a Wednesday letter to the state Board of Education and Department of Education, the original curriculum’s authors and former advisory committee members demanded their names be removed from the text because its “guiding principles … have been compromised due to political and media pressure.” In a Facebook livestream, Allyson Tintiango-Cubales, one of the letter’s signatories, encouraged California schools to instead adopt “a liberated ethnic studies model curriculum” she plans to develop with some of the original draft’s authors.

The dramatic move comes about four years after the state Legislature mandated the creation of an ethnic studies model curriculum that interested California high schools could use to develop their own lesson plans. The curriculum has since gone through three drafts — each controversial in its own right — with the state Board of Education slated to review the final draft and public comments on March 17-18 and take final action on March 31.

After the first draft was deemed anti-Semitic, too politically correct and not inclusive enough, it was revised to encourage discussion of all identities and backgrounds while focusing on the four groups central to ethnic studies: Asian, Black, Latino and Native Americans. But even as some protested what they saw as the discipline’s dilution, others — including Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, Pacific Islanders and Sikh Americans — pushed for more representation.

  • The California Department of Education in a statement to me: We are “committed to creating a model curriculum that serves all of California’s students and encourages critical thinking about complex issues of race, identity and the forces that shape our lives and our society.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom in September vetoed a bill that would have made ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement, citing “much uncertainty about the appropriate … model curriculum.” The bill was reintroduced in December, though it would not require schools to adopt the Department of Education’s model curriculum specifically.

However, Newsom did sign a bill mandating California State University students take an ethnic studies course — overriding a plan previously approved by the Board of Trustees, and causing no small controversy of its own.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,294,447 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 42,466 deaths (+1.6% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.


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1. Kaiser opens mass vaccination sites

Employees receive COVID-19 vaccines at Carefield Assisted Living Facility in Castro Valley on Feb. 3, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Kaiser Permanente plans to open today two mass vaccination sites as part of its agreement with the state at Cal Poly Pomona and the Moscone Center in San Francisco, the health insurance giant announced Thursday. The sites will eventually have the capacity to administer 10,000 doses per day, given adequate supply. The news comes a day after Newsom and the federal government announced plans to open mass vaccination sites in Oakland and Los Angeles, sparking concerns that Central Valley residents aren’t being prioritized for the vaccine. The Fresno City Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday calling on President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to force California to increase Fresno County’s vaccine allotment.

  • Councilman Mike Karbassi: “We’re just not getting our fair share from the state. We have about half the vaccination rate of the state. That’s really unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, with Super Bowl Sunday coming up, more contagious forms of the virus spreading, and an expected increase in social activity following the lifting of the regional stay-at-home order, some experts are concerned that California could see another surge in coronavirus infections, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports.

2. Lawmakers vow to reform EDD

Image via iStock

A group of California assemblymembers calling themselves an unemployment reform “working group” unveiled a slate of proposals Thursday to overhaul the beleaguered Employment Development Department. The move follows two scathing state audits that revealed how EDD may have paid up to $31 billion in fraudulent claims, as well as a flurry of legislative hearings on months-long benefit payment delays. The bills in the reform package would:

  • Allow claimants to access unemployment benefits by direct deposit, rather than debit card or paper check.
  • Require unemployment claimants to be cross-checked with prison and jail rosters.
  • Allocate $55 million for local and state fraud investigations.
  • Create a new board within the state Labor Department to oversee EDD.
  • Establish a new claimant advocate’s office and claimant’s bill of rights.
  • Require EDD to provide support in multiple languages.

EDD, which is still grappling with a backlog of nearly 975,000 unemployment claims, has more on the way. More than 104,000 Californians filed initial unemployment claims in the week ending Jan. 30, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday — nearly double the amount filed the week before.

3. Recall Newsom campaign gains steam

Recall Newsom volunteer Pat Miller holds up a sign at SaveMart in Sacramento on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

The Recall Newsom campaign announced Thursday that it’s gathered more than 1.4 million of the roughly 1.5 million signatures needed to trigger a special election — suggesting that the governor could soon be facing the biggest political challenge of his career. (Around 600,000 of the signatures have been verified so far.) Although Newsom has avoided acknowledging the recall, the California Democratic Party last month attacked it as a “coup” and Democratic lawmakers showered Newsom with praise at a Wednesday press conference, an indication it’s perceived as a serious threat. For a refresher on how a recall qualifies for the ballot and how a recall election works, check out this short video from CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons and Laurel Rosenhall.


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CalMatters commentary

Newsom’s unlikely foe: Teachers unions’ self-interested attacks on the governor bring us no closer to a balanced policy for reopening schools, argues Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor.

Time to reform AB 5: The worker reclassification law and COVID-19 packed a double punch for many California businesses and employers, writes Manuel Cosme Jr. of Professional Small Business Services Inc.


Other things worth your time

Los Angeles councilman announces plan to sue schools to reopen. // Los Angeles Times

LAUSD takes heat for allowing film crew on campus amid school shutdowns. // Los Angeles Daily News

Credential testing required for new California teachers would be reduced under Newsom proposal. // EdSource

Orange County man files lawsuit against Newsom for death penalty moratorium. // Orange County Register

Grocers organization sues Oakland, Montebello over forced hazard pay hikes. // Los Angeles Times

Kaiser hit with more fines for COVID-19 violations. // Mercury News

San Quentin coronavirus violations lead to biggest pandemic-era fine from California regulatory agency. // San Francisco Chronicle

California to get $59.6 million from opioid epidemic settlement with McKinsey & Co. // Sacramento Bee

Is it time to rethink the way California counts its homeless population? // Los Angeles Times


See you Monday.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...