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California has become the first state to make ethnic studies a required class for high school graduation to help students understand the past and present struggles and contributions of Black, Asian, Latino, Native/Indigenous Americans and other groups that have experienced racism and marginalization in America.

AB101 was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last Friday. A teaching guide was completed and approved in March by the state Board of Education and the requirement would first apply to those who graduate in 2030.

“Ethnic studies courses enable students to learn their own stories — and those of their classmates,” Newsom said in a signing statement. A news release from his office predicted ethnic studies will “help expand educational opportunities in schools, teach students about the diverse communities that comprise California and boost academic engagement and attainment for students.

According to a report in the LA Times, a footnote in the state’s ethnic studies teaching guide states that critical race theory “acknowledges that racism is embedded within systems and institutions.”

Individual school districts will have the task of developing courses using the state’s teaching guide, which is called a “model curriculum.” Educators can pick and choose elements to include in a local course but are expected to be faithful to the main ideas of this framework.

“America is shaped by our shared history, much of it painful and etched with woeful injustice,” the governor said in his signing statement. Students “must understand our nation’s full history if we expect them to one day build a more just society.”

“I appreciate that the legislation provides a number of guardrails to ensure that courses will be free from bias or bigotry and appropriate for all students,” Newsom said in his signing statement.

Under the law, students in the class of 2030, who will start high school in the fall of 2026, must pass at least one single-semester course. And by the fall of 2025, all public high schools will have to offer such a class.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a longtime professor of Africana studies and a former member of the Instructional Quality Commission, which reviewed the model curriculum, said the successful push for ethnic studies sets California apart.

“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,” Weber told the Times. “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 contributions to American society.”