The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees will not revisit a decision made in September when it voted to not renew a contract with a company that provided training for educators to teach ethnic studies at the district’s three comprehensive high schools.
PVUSD’s three-member Agenda Setting Committee voted 2-1 on Nov. 2 not to bring the item back for a revote, despite requests from several teachers and community members to do so. Trustees Kim De Serpa and Georgia Acosta voted to not bring it back, with Board President Jennifer Holm dissenting.
The company in question is Community Responsive Education (CRE), which PVUSD hired in 2021 to provide its ethnic studies pedagogy—defined as the philosophy by which a subject is taught. Its $110,000 contract was up for renewal on Sept. 13.
One of the company’s founders, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, also contributed to the textbook in use by the district, “Rethinking Ethnic Studies.”
The controversy dates back to 2019, when Tintiangco-Cubales co-chaired California’s ethnic studies model curriculum advisory committee, which created a pilot curriculum for the California Department of Education that was widely criticized as anti-semitic.
In an Aug. 27 teleconference, Sen. Scott Wiener—also head of the Jewish Caucus—said the curriculum “had some despicable language in it that was just straight-up anti-semitic,” while Gov. Gavin Newsom said it would not “see the light of day.”
A letter from the Jewish Communities of Vermont to that state’s school board said that Tintiangco-Cubales’ draft was “rife with antisemitic and anti-Israel content including the trope that Jews control the media.”
The original 600-page curriculum only made two mentions of the Holocaust, and two mentions of antisemitism, compared with 317 mentions of Chicanos, 303 of Mexicans and 236 of Black people. It was also criticized for its focus on only four ethnic groups—Blacks, Latinos, Asian and Pacific Islanders and Indigenous people.
The curriculum was scrubbed and rewritten, and a more palatable version was later adopted by the state. Tintiangco-Cubales and other authors distanced themselves from the newer version and refused to sign it, saying it had numerous errors and a diluted look at Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), among other things.
Tintiangco-Cubales, who has been an ethnic studies professor at San Francisco State University since 2000, has vehemently denied that she is anti-semitic, and has defended the original curriculum.
De Serpa and Acosta—both of whom sit on the agenda-setting committee—criticized the district during the Sept. 13 meeting for entering into a contract with CRE, given the previous controversy.
Acosta said the agenda committee is considering a special study session around the topic “where all voices can be heard from all perspectives.”
The district’s curriculum has been in use since its adoption in 2021, with the pedagogy called “Liberated Ethnic Studies” provided by CRE.
Liberated ethnic studies has been criticized as a system that teaches young people ethnic studies through a lens of oppressors versus oppressed, which can unnecessarily instill a sense of enmity.
Inclusive ethnic studies, by contrast, examines the positive impacts that ethnic groups have had on society, and stays away from an us-versus-them window on societal power structures, thus allowing students to form their own opinions.
PVUSD’s ethnic studies program—and Tintiangco-Cubales’ curriculum—has received positive feedback from students and teachers.
Student Trustee Ruby Romero-Maya asked that the vote be reconsidered once again, and that the board “do more research on CRE before voting.”
Romero-Maya previously said that her ethnic studies courses have had a positive impact on how she views the world.
“Students would like to ensure that our teachers are learning from professionals in their fields who can speak from their personal experiences to bring a more in-depth perspective,” she said.
A letter to the trustees signed by 12 PVUSD ethnic studies teachers describes the program as “a well-rounded and culturally sensitive education.”
“Having worked closely with Allyson and the CRE program, we can attest to the significant positive impact it has had on our efforts to expand and enrich the PVUSD Ethnic Studies program,” the letter states. “Allyson and her team have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to our students and their education, working tirelessly to bridge gaps and ensure that every student feels seen, heard, and valued.”
Several people spoke on the issue during the Nov. 8 board meeting.
Cynthia Lewis, who serves as Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for UC Santa Cruz’s Social Science Division, said she was “terribly surprised and disappointed” by the decision to end the contract.
“… there was no evidence provided that CRE consultants are antisemitic, and in fact I know them not to be,” Lewis said. “As someone whose work includes the education of future educators, I’m especially disappointed to see that teachers were not consulted in this matter, and I can’t imagine they feel trusted as the professionals that are.”
Watsonville High School Ethnic Studies teacher Bobby Pelz said that the board should have better researched the issue before voting.
“What appalls me most of all is that two people on a board of seven that is supposed to represent all of us can block the will of the people because of their own agenda,” Pelz said. “To me I find that a gross abuse of power and I will not stand for it.”
Retired local physician Rosalind Shorenstein, who supports the decision to not continue the contract, questioned spending an additional $110,000 on the contract renewal.
Both Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz City Schools districts have their own teachers and staff make their ethnic studies curriculum, she said.
“Pajaro district students are currently enrolled in four or six accredited courses in ethnic studies: English, history and art, implemented by your experienced curriculum specialists and teachers,” Shorenstein said. “Costly additional teacher training is really not required at this point.”
Nat Lo, co-director of the Asian American Justice and Innovation Lab, who goes by they/them pronouns, said that they have not seen any evidence of antisemitism and called the decision “incredibly disruptive.”
“Throwing away two years of hard work not only by the CRE team but also by the many PVUSD educators involved and having to start over again in building local capacity for ethnic studies means that students are losing out,” they said.