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New group clashes with O.C. Board of Education over ethnic studies

Orange County Register logo Orange County Register 7/28/2021 Roxana Kopetman, Camryn Pak
a group of people posing for the camera: Mari Barke, center, president of the Orange County Board of Education speaks at a press conference prior to a forum about about ethnic studies and critical race theory at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG) © Provided by Orange County Register Mari Barke, center, president of the Orange County Board of Education speaks at a press conference prior to a forum about about ethnic studies and critical race theory at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

On the same day that more than 200 residents met for an Orange County Board of Education forum on ethnic studies, a new group gathered to say it will push back against what they termed the board’s “misinformation” and “lies.”

Members of “Truth in Education” on Tuesday said their group was formed to counter the Orange County school board’s opposition to ethnic studies and critical race theory. They also said they will emphasize the importance of teaching ethnic studies, not just in Orange County but nationwide.

“The current system, our system, your children’s system, is outdated. It teaches hate and rewards bigotry,” said Ian Scruton, a student from Capistrano Unified School District who gathered with some 20 fellow “Truth in Education” members outside Eastbluff Elementary School in Newport Beach.

  • a group of people standing in front of a crowd © Provided by Orange County Register

    The Orange County Board of Education holds first of two town hall meetings to discuss ethnic studies and critical race theory in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people sitting at a table in a room © Provided by Orange County Register

    The Orange County Board of Education, left, panel members and the pubic listen to a speaker during public comments at a town hall meeting to discuss ethnic studies and critical race theory in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people sitting in front of a crowd © Provided by Orange County Register

    The public and invited guests pack the Orange County Board of Education for a town hall meetings to discuss ethnic studies and critical race theory in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Valentim Loureiro et al. in a room © Provided by Orange County Register

    A group of invited panelists, front, listen to public comments at the first of two town hall meetings to discuss ethnic studies and critical race theory at the Orange County Board of Education at the in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people standing in front of a crowd © Provided by Orange County Register

    The Orange County Board of Education, left, listens to a speaker during public comments at a town hall meeting to discuss ethnic studies and critical race theory in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people sitting in front of a building © Provided by Orange County Register

    Overflow seats were set up outside the Orange County Board of Education for a town hall meeting to discuss ethnic studies and critical race theory in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people standing in front of a building © Provided by Orange County Register

    Eight protesters stand outside the Orange County Board of Education prior to the start of a town hall meeting to discuss ethnic studies and critical race theory at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • © Provided by Orange County Register

    Chairs set up in at the Orange County Board of Education have the names of invited guests attending a town hall meeting to discuss ethnic studies and critical race theory at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people posing for the camera © Provided by Orange County Register

    Elina Kaplan, left, speaks at a press conference about ethnic studies and critical race theory prior to a forum at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people posing for the camera © Provided by Orange County Register

    Lisa Sparks, center, trustee of the Orange County Board of Education speaks at a press conference prior to a forum about about ethnic studies and critical race theory at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a person holding a pair of people posing for the camera © Provided by Orange County Register

    Wenyuan Wu, left, speaks at a press conference about ethnic studies and critical race theory prior to a forum at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Meanwhile, in Costa Mesa, the Orange County Board of Education held its own press conference and later hosted a special meeting with invited speakers on the same topics: ethnic studies and the more controversial critical race theory, also known as “CRT”.

“I don’t think that anybody here today would deny that racism sadly continues to play a role in our society,” board member Lisa Sparks said during the press conference.

“But where the conflict arises is on whether, in fact, society is designed to perpetuate racism or whether we have continued to make progress towards a more just society, thanks to the work of all ethnicities, color and backgrounds…

“In many of its iterations, CRT seems to reject the idea that America is a fundamentally free country, born out of lofty aspirations, and concludes instead that our country is fundamentally flawed and designed only to protect white privilege.”

Ethnic studies is the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity, which includes the often-overlooked history and contributions of Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans.

Critical race theory is a decades-old academic concept typically taught at the college level that looks at race as a social construct and racism as something that is embedded in governmental institutions and policy.

Some educators, including Los Alamitos Unified Superintendent Andrew Pulver, have said the two teachings are separate and they tout ethnic studies as a means of teaching empathy and helping achieve racial justice and equity. Critics, however, say that schools have melded the two and that the ideas of critical race theory have seeped into K-12 curricula, teaching children that people are divided into groups, with some as victims who are oppressed, and whites as the oppressors, leading to divisiveness and intolerance.

“It is not unreasonable to affirm that critical race theory is designed to convey hostile, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, non-inclusive ideas,” Sparks said.

  • a group of people holding a sign © Provided by Orange County Register

    Supporters of Californian’s state-mandated ethnic studies during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people posing for the camera © Provided by Orange County Register

    Lisa Sparks, center, trustee of the Orange County Board of Education speaks at a press conference prior to a forum about about ethnic studies and critical race theory at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a person holding a pair of people posing for the camera © Provided by Orange County Register

    Theresa Montano, a professor at Cal State Northridge, explains that she didn’t want to participate in the Orange County Board of Education’s forum on ethnic studies and critical race theory because, “there are no other experts on the panel” and she doesn’t like that everyone else on the panel disagrees with her during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • © Provided by Orange County Register

    Supporters of Californian’s state-mandated ethnic studies during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people posing for the camera © Provided by Orange County Register

    Elina Kaplan, left, speaks at a press conference about ethnic studies and critical race theory prior to a forum at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a person holding a pair of people posing for the camera © Provided by Orange County Register

    Wenyuan Wu, left, speaks at a press conference about ethnic studies and critical race theory prior to a forum at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a person holding a sign © Provided by Orange County Register

    Supporters of Californian’s state-mandated ethnic studies during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people wearing costumes © Provided by Orange County Register

    Rabbi Stephen Einstein speaks during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a person brushing the teeth © Provided by Orange County Register

    Supporters of Californian’s state-mandated ethnic studies during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • © Provided by Orange County Register

    Sapna Chopra, a parent in the Orange Unified School District, speaks during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people that are standing in the grass © Provided by Orange County Register

    Roselinn Lee, a teacher in the Santa Ana Unified School District, speaks during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • © Provided by Orange County Register

    Theresa Montano, a professor at Cal State Northridge, explains that she didn’t want to participate in the Orange County Board of Education’s forum on ethnic studies and critical race theory because, “there are no other experts on the panel” and she doesn’t like that everyone else on the panel disagrees with her during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a group of people posing for the camera © Provided by Orange County Register

    Mari Barke, center, president of the Orange County Board of Education speaks at a press conference prior to a forum about about ethnic studies and critical race theory at the Orange County Board of Education in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • © Provided by Orange County Register

    Supporters of Californian’s state-mandated ethnic studies during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • a man holding a microphone © Provided by Orange County Register

    Ian Scruton, a student advocate from the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, speaks during a press conference by Truth in Education in Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Parents like Henny Abraham of Costa Mesa criticized proposals to introduce a curriculum that she said is divisive.

“I don’t know what my kids are going to be told when they walk into school as my 6-year old is about to enter first grade,” Abraham said. “Is he privileged because he’s half-white? Or is he a victim because he’s half Persian and a minority?”

But back at the “Truth in Education” event, members said ethnic studies brings people together rather than apart, noting that the subject entails students learning about individuals from other cultures and their struggles and contributions.

“I know that some people are concerned that teaching ethnic studies and accurate history about oppression teaches kids to hate the U.S., or that it is about putting down white people. (But) it’s none of those things,” said Sapna Chopra, a parent from the Orange Unified School District.

“Ethnic studies empowers students with the information they need to build a more inclusive democracy.”

One of the speakers at the pro-ethnic studies press conference was Theresa Montaño, a professor at Cal State Northridge who teaches in the Chicana and Chicano Studies department. She initially was invited to the board’s town hall by member Beckie Gomez, the only Democrat on the board, but withdrew Monday saying the panel would offer a skewed, uninformed view about ethnic studies. Montaño said the other panelists were not experts in the field and oppose teaching the subject.

“I really thought long and hard about it. And when I heard that these folks were interested in doing something over here, as an alternative, that kind of sold it,” Montaño said, adding that she made her decision to resign on Sunday – just two days before the event.

That late-minute decision was roundly criticized by several Board of Education members, who said they would have preferred she show up at the evening forum and present her views. Board President Mari Barke apologized Tuesday evening to the other invited speakers of the forum, who she said were slandered by Montaño.

Last March, the California Board of Education approved a model ethnic studies curriculum.  School districts can adopt California’s curriculum, tweak it the way they want, or ignore it altogether. In Orange County, a number of districts offer ethnic studies or are considering doing so. At least two districts, Santa Ana Unified and Anaheim Union High, have decided to make ethnic studies a requirement for high school graduation, something California legislators also are considering as a statewide mandate.

The Board of Education’s forum, which can be viewed on YouTube, was still going on as this story went to print. A second town hall on the same topics is scheduled for Aug. 24.

Note: This article has been updated to correct the school district for student Ian Scruton.

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