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Ethnic studies course approved for Paso Robles High School with contingency

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Posted at 10:55 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 16:50:51-04

An ethnic studies course could be coming to Paso Robles High School.

Tuesday night, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees discussed what this addition would mean for students.

While there is movement at the state level to make a course like this mandatory, this course would be an elective for Paso High students.

A class like this was previously offered several years ago at the school but was removed once the teacher who oversaw the course left.

After 10 p.m., the board voted 6-1 to approve the course for the 2021-2022 school year, contingent upon the educators behind the course presenting the board a "more balanced curriculum and a revised reading list" at their next meeting.

Northern San Luis Obispo County resident Maly Willis says the number of racist incidents she and her family have faced in the community has risen over the last four years.

"I have friends that tell me: "There's no racism here, everyone likes everyone and blah blah blah" and I'm like not really — you may say that because you're the majority," Willis said.

She's now one of the parents advocating for an ethnic studies course to be taught at Paso Robles High School.

"[It would be nice] just to have that come into Paso Robles and enrich the kids [so they] know there's more out there than just our town, our little knit town of predominantly Caucasian people," Willis said.

This course was put together in part by Paso Robles High School teacher Geoffrey Land, with the support of the Paso DEI Education Committee.

The curriculum aims to: "educate students to be politically, socially, and economically conscious about their personal and cultural connections to local and national history."

"It's an opportunity to explore our identity, the nation's identity, and how these identities have mixed and fused and struggled over the years and made this country this amazing country that is ours," Land said.

The curriculum currently outlined will spend several months talking about marginalized groups.

Land says there may be skepticism about the course and how it will be taught.

"I think the fear that some people have is that this an attempt to teach an agenda that demeans America or focuses only on the bad parts of America, and criticizes the White dominance of American history. I think there's skepticism about who is behind this and how it's going to be taught to our children and that's totally understandable," Land said.

Paso Robles resident Peter Byrne expressed his frustration with the course during public comment.

"[Critical Race Theory] is classic racism; you will be teaching racism and how can you justify that? Byrne said.

"What I did was try to recognize those concerns and avoid elements that might be divisive or misunderstood or might result in a closing of a door instead of an opening of a door," Land said.

We reached out to the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR), an organization that has been critical of the state's proposed ethnic curriculum.

Ian Rowe, a board member for the organization, says in a statement:

Students need to understand the full history of ethnic peoples in America, not cherry-picked atrocities that woven together feed a political narrative that paints the country as permanently and irredeemably racist. Ethnic studies should ultimately stress common humanity across race, and encourage young people to bring about a world in which we are all judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is reportedly proposing $5 million dollars in the state's budget to help prepare teachers to teach this subject.