OC Board of Education, County Education Department Host Dueling Ethnic Studies Forums – Voice of OC



The Orange County Department of Education plans to host a “colloquium” at 2 p.m. tomorrow, where educational leaders will define Ethnic Studies — a course that has become subject to fiery debate across the country in the past few months.

The colloquium is being held less than a week before the County’s Board of Education holds their own forum to provide information on the course and Critical Race Theory on July 27.

The dueling forums are the latest in a long string of faceoffs between the board of education and Mijares — faceoffs that sometimes land in court at the expense of the taxpayer.

[Read: OC Board of Education, Superintendent Spend $3 Million in Legal Battle to Pick Their Own Lawyers]

The OC Department of Education oversees and serves the county’s 28 school districts, while the OC Board of Education consists of five elected members who hold open meetings and each represent different trustee areas of the county. 

The only powers allocated to the county Board of Education is a final approval on the department of education’s budget and purchasing property. Individual districts control their own curriculums and own budgets — approved by the county Department of Education.

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County Superintendent Al Mijares said the purpose of his forum is to bring in experts to speak on the ethnic studies curriculum and dispel misinformation. 

“First we are going to feature a group of professionals who were either part of the development of the ethnic studies curriculum or have studied it,” Mijares said in an interview Friday. “The second part of the colloquium will feature four superintendents from our county who are currently offering ethnic studies or will offer ethnic studies, and we want them to tell their story.” 

The Superintendent’s forum will feature:

  • Michael Matsuda — Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent
  • Andrew Pulver — Los Alamitos Unified School District Superintendent
  • Jerry Almendarez — Santa Ana Unified School District Superintendent
  • Gregory Franklin — Tustin Unified School District Superintendent
  • Talisa Sullivan — Administrator, Equity & Access Educational Services Riverside County Office of Education
  • Kimberly Young — Instructional Quality Commission Member Teacher, Culver City Unified School District
  • Emily K. Penner — Asst. Professor Education Policy & Social Context UCI School of Ed.
  • D.A. Horton — Asst. Professor & Program Director, Intercultural Studies California Baptist University

Mijares emphasized that the ethnic studies curriculum is not synonymous with critical race theory, and the misinformation he has viewed prompted the need for expert discussion.

“I wanted to be clear on what [ethnic studies] means as opposed to having the public subjected to the speculations of many people who just may be misinformed,” Mijares said.

Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda said ethnic studies is not anti-American, but creates a better understanding of American history. He also said critical race theory is taught in college level courses, not through ethnic studies.

“I believe that the fact that ugly side of America is now taught in our textbooks — I think it’s made the country even better and more inclusive,” Matsuda said in a phone interview last week.

He said his mom was at Anaheim High School when she and her family were put in internment camps shortly after the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor in World War II. 

Now he is the superintendent of the district.

“That’s a very powerful message for young people today that this country, like every country, has had it’s dark sides to it. But being transparent, and trying to continue to push the needle of liberty and justice for all, is what this great experiment is all about.”

Michael Matsuda, Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent

But not all parents, educators and students agree with Matsuda. 

Some, like County Board of Education Trustee Ken Williams have been vocal against Critical Race Theory.

An ethnic studies classroom in the Garden Grove Unified School District. Credit: An ethnic studies classroom in the Garden Grove Unified School District.

Board of education trustees and Mijares also bumped heads when the board of education put out recommendations last Summer for a return to school without masks and social distancing, going against the county department’s own recommendations.

Those recommendations came about after the education board hosted a panel of experts who recommended that schools reopen without social distancing or requiring masks

Concerns were raised that the panelists and the public commenters at that meeting were cherry picked to speak against public health measures.

Now a year later — similar concerns have popped up from residents on social media following the announcement of the panelists for the County’s board of education first forum on Ethnic Studies.

The OC Board of Education’s July forum will include the following panelists:

Orange County Board of Education trustee Tim Shaw said the panelists were chosen by of the 

board, of which each member was able to nominate a panelist.

“Because we have pretty different ideological positions amongst some of us [on the board], I think our panel will reflect that,” Shaw said in an interview Thursday.

Orange County Board of Education listens to public comments on recent educational issues involving vaccination passports and curriculum. Credit: GARRETT TROUTMAN, Voice of OC

On social media, however, many people are criticizing the panelists, saying they lean too far one way on the issue.

Some Twitter users have even taken to researching each panelist to expose their possible biases.

Shaw said multiple points of views will be represented at the forum.

“The whole idea here was that we were answering questions and educating the public on what is and is not being required by the state,” Shaw said. “There’s going to be a range there. I think every point of view will be heard during this.”

When asked about the board’s panel, Mijares said he knew very little about them and hadn’t heard them speak.

In addition, Shaw said the department’s colloquium announcement came as a surprise.

“We had our last meeting and we heard from the superintendent what his report is…He didn’t mention anything about putting any kind of forum together. A day or two later, an email was sent out and it caught all of us on the board by surprise.” 

Tim Shaw, Orange County Board of Education Trustee

It’s ultimately up to the individual school districts in Orange County on deciding to teach Ethnic Studies in their curriculum.

But that could change as state legislators are moving to make ethnic studies a requirement.

State legislation is currently being considered to make an ethnic studies course a graduation requirement for high schoolers — and would require all the state’s high school districts to develop such a course by the 2025-2026 school year.

Multiple school districts are already moving forward with elective ethnic studies like Tustin Unified and Los Alamitos Unified.

Others like Anaheim Union High and the Santa Ana Unified School District have voted to implement a graduation requirement.

In other districts like the Fullerton Joint Union and Garden Grove Unified School Districts students are pushing for such a graduation requirement.

The Orange County Board of Education is scheduled to hold a second forum on Ethnic Studies and Critical Race Theory in August.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.