The New State-wide Ethnic Studies Requirement for High Schools


Each campus in the Fremont Union High School District will pilot new ethnic studies and health classes in the 2023-2024 school year. The pilot classes will be two separate semester-long courses and will be taught to around 30 ninth-grade students. After the trial phase, the course will be available to all students in the upcoming years. 

The semester-long health course will cover topics like mental, social and physical health as well as nutrition, alcohol, drug use and safety.

Kristi Kuehn, a science teacher at Cupertino is a pilot teacher for health and part of the curriculum development team for the new class.

“[The health class] is creating an amazing opportunity for all freshmen to be learning and focusing on health for the first time,” said Kuehn. 

The health class will teach students to address health issues that are present on campus. For example, the course will cover students’ struggles with mental health, which rose to become a prominent problem among high schoolers after the pandemic. The course will connect students with resources available on our campus and also enable students to communicate about their health.

“[The health course] will create a caring climate for students that are coming into Cupertino High school for the first time,” Kuehn said. “Ultimately, we hope that it helps students improve their health and experience in high school.”

Unlike the health class, the new ethnic studies class is mandated by state law. On October 8th, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Assembly Bill 101. This makes the one-semester course in ethnic studies a public high school graduation requirement for all students, starting with the class of 2030. 

In a letter addressing the California State Assembly, Newsom wrote, “Ethnic studies courses enable students to learn their own stories, and those of their classmates, and a number of studies have shown that these courses boost student achievement over the long run — especially among students of color.” 

“Ethnic studies is typically misunderstood. I think a lot of times people think [that in] ethnic studies, you’re just studying ethnicities. But that’s actually not what it’s about.” said Oliver Yeh, a social studies teacher and the ethnic studies pilot teacher at Cupertino. “Ethnic studies is more of a framework of how you analyze and think about systems of power.”
The FUHSD set a general guideline for how each unit of the course will be taught instead of assigning specific ethnicities to the course. This allows each school to adjust its course to match its student body, serving as two things that Yeh describes as “the mirror” and “the window”. The mirror allows students to see themselves in their studies. To adjust to the ethnicity most commonly presented at CHS, the course content will include studies on South and East Asian populations. Furthermore, the window ensures that the curriculum will also  cover other minority groups, enabling students to see outside of their experiences and explore perspectives that are different from their own.

Identity and community are two major themes that students in the ethnic studies course will examine. Students will analyze various aspects of identity with activities such as analyzing biographies and bringing in items from their families that represent their identity. Additionally, students will discuss topics like “what makes up a community?” And “how can one as an individual or as a group benefit their community?”

A group of teachers, classified staff, administrators, and other educators throughout FUHSD collaborated to make these two classes come to FUHSD. This group includes the pilot teachers, who will be the first people in FUHSD to teach the new class; the curriculum development team, who will design the course structure according to state standards; and the advisory team, who will provide feedback on the course’s development.

Detailed plans for the course are still in development, but the teams will work together to execute the pilot program successfully and smoothly integrate ethnic studies into students’ high school course selection.