CARLSBAD — Following an intense March 8 meeting filled with public comments from both sides of the partisan aisle, the Carlsbad Unified School District board of trustees unanimously approved a high school film academy’s ethnic studies class with a few minor changes.
The board approved changes to Carlsbad High School’s Film Academy Ethnic Studies framework and course description to remove the terms “institutional racism” and “white Eurocentric dominant culture” as the district prepares to offer the class for the 2023-24 school year.
Carlsbad High students can enroll in the school’s Film Academy as a freshman, sophomore or junior, but the one-semester elective class is only required for ninth graders. Due to new state law, ethnic studies courses will be a graduation requirement for California’s graduating class of 2030.
The district will include ethnic studies districtwide to meet the state requirement starting in 2025-26. The board also approved Intro to Film Studies during its Feb. 15 meeting.
Assistant Superintendent Rob Nye said the Film Academy Ethnic Studies class allows students to scrutinize racism, stereotypes and cultural appropriation while exploring the emergence of new voices.
“Students will be asked to examine and drawn their own conclusions as it relates to historical events through the lens of film,” Nye said. “We do have board policy specifically around controversial issues … and it talks about instruction being presented in a balanced manner addressing all sides of the issue.”
While residents, parents and students spoke in support or opposition, a source familiar with the curriculum development process said those teachers had no objection over the board’s Feb. 15 action to make adjustments. The source insisted on anonymity due to fears of retaliation.
Since the course was developed as part of the state’s framework for ethnic studies and fulfilled a graduation requirement, there was little the school board could do about the curriculum.
Other Film Academy classes focus on English and history that align with the goals of those requirements for high school students. The Ethnic Studies class is another way for students to relate to the material, the source said, who has decades of experience developing coursework in Carlsbad schools.
The anonymous source believes the board performed its duties by asking questions, reviewing the course curriculum, seeking additional input and taking note of public concerns.
The district’s list of possible test questions for the class are examples of what could be asked, not necessarily what will be asked. The test questions, along with the curriculum, will be fully developed at a later time, school district officials said.
“One of the things we took away from Feb. 15 was a desire that some of the central questions be worded in a more open-ended manner,” said Superintendent Ben Churchill.
Other well-documented issues of discrimination throughout Hollywood’s history, such as the suppression of women, anti-semitism, McCarthyism and other bigotries, are covered in the Film Academy’s U.S. History class.
Trustee Ray Pearson also noted students would have the option to write about their own families experiences with discrimination in the Film Academy’s Ethnic Studies course.
“I’m really excited about this course,” Trustee Michele Ward said. “I appreciate all the comments we’ve received … and I appreciate this dialogue we’re having. I think it’s really important, and this is exactly what will happen here with this course.”
Residents speak out
The issue exploded several weeks ago as partisan political battle lines were quickly drawn over the Ethnic Studies curriculum introduced to the district.
Opposition to the class cited concerns over “indoctrination,” lacking multiple perspectives, promoting a “woke” agenda, and deploying Critical Race Theory.
Pearson said the curriculum does not include any CRT.
Supporters said the class is essential to showcase systemic racism in Hollywood and stereotypes among minorities while providing diverse educational opportunities.
Approximately one week before the March 8 meeting, Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel’s campaign sent an email on Feb. 25 to supporters with the subject line, “Extremists taking over our school boards,” claiming the school board had refused to accept the curriculum during the board’s previous meeting on Feb. 15.
However, none of the individuals who developed the Ethnic Studies framework and course description took issue with the board’s recommended changes, sources told The Coast News.
Bhat-Patel’s email claimed that the “right-wing bogeyman” is vilifying students of diverse backgrounds and that the board’s vote pandered to White supremacy.
“This isn’t a scene from Ron DeSantis’ Florida — it’s right in the middle of our majority-minority county,” Bhat-Patel’s email reads. “The school district trustees refused to accept the curriculum as it stands and pressed educators to design a course that ignores what really happened to marginalized people. That is, elements that challenged the existence of institutional racism.”
Bhat-Patel, the first Indian American elected to the Carlsbad City Council, said she’s concerned with the “importation of far-right ideals that teach our kids a false, rose-tinted history” and wants her son to enjoy the same opportunity she enjoyed while a student in the district.
In the email, Bhat-Patel pledged to organize parents “committed to stopping attacks on education to come speak at the meeting and voice their concerns” by sending a template of talking points for parents to read at the March 8 meeting.
Some residents raised ethical concerns with Bhat-Patel’s email and questioned if her action violated California Fair Political Practices Commission rules and laws prohibiting publicly-elected officials from using their positions to influence a government decision.
Scott Davidson, director of the newly-formed Carlsbad Education Alliance, strongly objected to Bhat-Patel’s email and blasted the class as politically motivated, challenging the board to find “the other perspective” in the class.
Other groups have called the class divisive, biased and more concerned with Marxist principles than contributions from different groups of people. Several speakers objected to a “far left” curriculum and argued the class does more to divide than unite people.