OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside Unified School District will soon expect public high school students to complete an ethnic studies course several years before a state law implements the coursework as a graduation requirement.
During a June 28 board meeting, the school board approved implementing a curriculum under Assembly Bill 101 — an education bill requiring California’s public high school students to complete ethnic studies to graduate — starting next school year (2023-24).
The state legislation only requires school districts to offer classes as a graduation requirement for the Class of 2030, which means introducing the classes by the start of the 2025-26 school year.
Trustee Eric Joyce said the district had already begun working on these courses earlier than other districts, allowing the district to implement the program ahead of schedule.
In 2019, Oceanside Unified began working on developing its ethnic studies course, offering a year-long pilot elective course in fall 2020 — a year before AB 101 was signed into law.
Associate Superintendent Mercedes Lovie said students are eager to begin ethnic studies courses, allowing them to take the College Board’s AP African American Studies class in fall 2024 and help them earn college credits. Students can also pick up college credits under MiraCosta College’s dual enrollment program.
Anjeanette Oberg, a psychology professor at MiraCosta College, told the school board that ethnic studies courses have helped many of her students succeed.
“I have students who talk about how ethnic studies really changed their lives,” Oberg said. “It’s the first time they ever felt represented, heard, valued, and it has had a tremendous impact on their cultural identity, which improves their overall health and wellbeing and increases their opportunities for success.”
According to Oberg, ethnic studies is coursework “developed by the people for the people” and can help address the nation’s social tension and racial divides.
Oceanside resident and former mayoral candidate Rob Howard supported the board’s decision to implement the ethnic studies program earlier than required.
Howard told his story of feeling out of place during his time at the University of Tennessee. Howard said he was just two African American students in the 200-300-student lectures.
“I didn’t realize my frustration was over not knowing enough about who I was and trying to fit into someone else’s space,” Howard said.
Howard said he disliked reading many books in school because they were stories about people who didn’t look like him. However, Howard said things could change for students in the future if they learn about other cultures and ethnicities as well as their ethnic backgrounds.
“For my White brothers and sisters, it’s not about eliminating you; it’s about including all of us,” Howard said.
Bradley Tobias, another Oceanside resident, questioned why the district needed to implement the ethnic studies program sooner. Tobias also suggested cutting classes down to a semester-long rather than a year-long course, which he said could leave space for a health class.
“We need to be focusing on health,” Tobias said, pointing out the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s obesity rates in children as reasons for more emphasis on health.
The ethnic studies course will begin with offering a general introduction to various ethnic groups before adding more specialized studies, according to Lovie.