A group that studies and archives the history of local Filipino people—and provides educational materials of that history—on Wednesday suspended its work with Pajaro Valley Unified School District, alleging that the Board of Trustees erred when they rejected a contract renewal for an ethnic studies curriculum on Sept. 13.
The Watsonville is in the Heart Research Initiative is a collaboration between the Tobera Project and the UCSC Humanities Institute.
UC Santa Cruz Assistant History Professor Kathleen Gutierrez accused the trustees of “insufficient deliberation,” and said they should have delved more deeply into the curriculum—in use by district high schools since 2021—before voting to end the contract.
The curriculum in question is Community Responsive Education (CRE), an ethnic studies program in use at the district’s three comprehensive high schools since 2021.
To date, Watsonville in the Heart has dedicated $60,879 in resources to PVUSD, with an additional $4,580 earmarked for the district, Gutierrez said.
“At the very least, I expect them to be a little more evidence-based to clarify both to teachers, students, community members and other collaborators what exactly CRE’s work does, and why or why not it should continue with the district,” she said.
The reason for the board’s rejection dates back to a 2019 pilot ethnic studies curriculum that was developed for the California Department of Education, portions of which members of the Jewish community, educators and lawmakers deemed anti-semitic.
One of the authors of the rejected curriculum, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, also created CRE.
Tintiangco-Cubales is a professor of Asian-American studies at San Francisco State University.
PVUSD adopted that curriculum in 2021, and it is now in use at the district’s three comprehensive high schools. The $110,000 contract was up for a one-year renewal at the Sept. 13 meeting.
The state curriculum was scrubbed and rewritten, and the issue was addressed on Aug. 27 in a two-hour conference with prominent Jewish leaders, lawmakers and State Superintendent of Public Education Tony Thurmond.
During that conference, Sen. Scott Wiener, co-chair of the Jewish Caucus, said that attacks on the Jewish community will get worse unless the issue is addressed.
Educators work hard, Wiener said, to assure that education is not a “gateway to teaching anti-semitism.”
“And the original draft of the curriculum had some despicable language in it that was just straight-up anti-semitic,” he said.
This publication has been unable to find the original draft of the state’s curriculum.
The Jewish News of Northern California reported that it “‘reflects an ‘anti-Jewish bias.’”
Additionally, the curriculum did not “meaningfully address anti-Semitism, is sharply critical of Israel, is supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, and seems to use an anti-Semitic trope with the inclusion of a rap lyric that supporters of Israel ‘use the press so they can manufacture,’” the story said.
In a letter to the PVUSD board and administrators, Tintiangco-Cubales said she was shocked to learn that the reason were the “unfounded allegations that I am ‘bigoted’ and ‘antisemitic,’” she wrote.
“As a lifelong educator, I view this deeply harmful experience to be a teachable moment, and it is in that spirit–and a commitment to justice in the face of injustice–that I offer this letter.”
Tintiangco-Cubales called the allegations “an act of defamation” that “malign my character and integrity.”
“The basis for their decision was unfounded claims of antisemitism,” she wrote. “Had they spent even a slight effort to research me, my work, and CRE, they would have realized the claims were false. They never reached out to meet with me or any of my colleagues at CRE, nor did they consult with Ethnic Studies teachers in PVUSD.”
She also points to support from the Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as Jewish studies scholars.
To see the letter in its entirety, visit tinyurl.com/ATICUresponsetoPVUSD.
A call for comment to Scott Wiener’s office was not returned.
PVUSD Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Claudia Monjaras, who at the time was Director of English Language Arts and Ethnic Studies, said that CRE has been woven into classes such as Ethnic Literature, World and U.S. History and Art. A dance class was in the works, as was a training for district administrators.
The curriculum, she said, uses personal experiences, stories and knowledge of ethnic groups, and also critiques dominant power structures and “intersectional forms of oppression.”
There is no evidence that CRE contains the same alleged anti-semitic language as the rejected curriculum. But the controversy was enough to earn a no-vote from Trustee Kim De Serpa, who pointed out that Santa Cruz City Schools, Scotts Valley and San Lorenzo Valley school districts have declined to use CRE, as has the County Office of Education.
“(PVUSD has) already been in our district teaching for two years with a pedagogy that I don’t know what they’re teaching,” De Serpa said. “It makes me very uncomfortable as a Jewish woman. I am shocked actually.”
Board Vice-President Georgia Acosta agreed, and said the district should have better vetted CRE before approving it.
“I also think that in light of recent events in our community, that we’ve seen bigotry first hand, racism, discrimination, and I am just absolutely appalled that our district is affiliated … with anything of the kind,” Acosta said. “That just absolutely appalls me beyond disgusting belief.”
But not everyone had a dim view of CRE.
Student Trustee Ruby Romero-Maya said she has taken three courses through CRE, and that the program has had a positive impact on how she views the world.
“It’s really amazing how a course can change your perspective and how you think of things and question what you’re learning,” she said.
Roy Recio, founder of the Tobera Project, said in an email that CRE was a successful program for PVUSD, and questions the motives of the people opposing it. Tobera is asking the district to reconsider the decision.
“Unfortunately, a third-party, far-right conservative group from outside the region is trying to besmirch and undermine (Tintiangco-Cubales’) professional work and spread misinformation regarding her ‘antisemitic’ beliefs,” Recio wrote in an email. “Trustee Kimberly De Serpa has been duped into taking the bait to these baseless claims without doing her due diligence in researching the matter without bias or favor.”
Recio added that Tintiangco-Cubales has “denounced any such claims of hate, discrimination or bias in her 30-year professional career.”
“She is a staunch trailblazer of ethnic studies on all levels of education, and has a remarkable track record of delivering set goals with the utmost respect for all communities,” Recio said.
Monjaras did not immediately return a call for comment.
PVUSD spokeswoman Alicia Jimenez said that, while the ethnic studies classes will continue, professional development for teachers and administrators is on hold.
It is not clear when—or if—the district will select a new ethnic studies program, Jimenez said.