Fontana Schools Approves Ethnic Studies Curriculum
By Dianne Anderson
Getting everyone in the room to agree on anything lately is a task of magnanimous proportions.
It’s all the more reason to take note of a recent Fontana Unified School Board decision to approve ethnic studies in the district’s high school curriculum.
The two classes that came up for preliminary draft approval include Social Equity as multicultural literature, which fulfills the English requirement for CSU and UC systems, along with an Ethnic Studies class, which will fill an elective.
Marcelino “Mars” Serna, vice president of the Fontana Unified School District board, introduced the resolution last year to have the ethnic studies high school course, which passed on a 5-0 vote. Initially, he said there were two concerns, one involved tweaking the ethnic studies class description, and the other concern regarded the need for more parental involvement.
“The reality was that the work was done in a committee,” he said. “There’s a representation of parents and community stakeholders, and representatives at local universities. The work didn’t happen in a vacuum.”
To date, a few districts in California have adopted similar policies to provide ethnic studies for high school students. But in the Inland Empire, FUSD is probably one of the few districts that have passed a resolution to ensure it becomes enforced, he said.
Serna, who teaches cultural proficiency and cross-cultural communications at San Bernardino Valley College, said that sometimes ethnic studies could be construed as controversial. History has always been tied to the Eurocentric model, he said. Ethnic studies bring in many facets, such as how racial and ethnic groups have contributed to America’s history.
“Many times, the history books have been written by those in the dominant culture, that’s what history is – his story, but they don’t always have the perspective of the other side,” he said.
Moving to a critical way of thinking is important, he said, particularly the examination of the impact of colonization. “A lot of our kids that come from communities of color don’t get to see that part of the story being told,” he said. “We’re trying to change the narrative a little bit.”
So far, he has received calls from other districts about how to get a similar approach implemented. Mostly, he said that it takes champions on the board and moving things forward together.
In the future, part of the process could involve the benefit of using LCFF, Local Control Funding Formula dollars to help school districts implement similar plans through LCAP, Local Control and Accountability Plan.
While rigorous course access is an LCAP goal, he said funding for the two ethnic studies courses came from the FUSD General Fund.
“The funding that we’re going to use for this is out of our general fund that we use for other courses, but Local Control has allowed school districts to do what we did — to have a resolution at the local level,” he said.
Schools are also allowed to get creative through LCFF around some aspects of programming as students of color are represented in supplemental and concentration dollars from the state. Many students of color generate the supplemental and concentration fund, which includes foster youth and English Learners.
He said they might be able to also supplement some of the course curriculum, for things like field trips because it serves the needs of the students.
Parental involvement is another important part of how districts develop their LCAP plan on how they will spend the LCFF dollars. Different districts handle parent engagement in different ways. “Some do it really well, some do it horrible, but at the end of the day, it’s a local indicator, and the local board is responsible for mandating how much parent engagement happens in a school district,” he said.
All eyes are also on Assembly Bill (AB) 331, a bill introduced earlier this year by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside) to push ethnic studies statewide as a high school graduation requirement.
“California is one of the most diverse states in the country and we should celebrate that diversity by teaching a curriculum that is inclusive of all of our cultures and backgrounds. Ethnic Studies provide students an opportunity to learn about histories outside of the Euro-centric teachings most prominent in our schools. At a time when the national climate drives divisiveness and fear of otherness, Ethnic Studies can play a critical role in increasing awareness and understanding,” Medina said in a release.