- California is among the first states in the US to make ethnic studies a required course for high school graduates.
- The new law will first apply to students graduating from high school in the 2029-30 school year.
- An ethnic studies guide was finalized and approved by the state Board of Education in March.
California will require its high school students to complete a course in ethnic studies to receive a diploma, starting with the class of 2030.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed the bill, AB 101, into law, making California among the first states in the nation to designate ethnic studies a graduation requirement for public school students.
After years of advocacy and vocal opposition from an array of lawmakers and organizers, the curriculum set to be taught in schools will help students understand the contributions of Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous Americans, along with other groups that have faced discrimination and marginalization in the US.
The new law mandates that public schools in the state have at least one ethnic studies class beginning in the 2025-26 school year, with a compulsory one-semester course for students graduating in the 2029-30 school year.
Democratic Assemblyman Jose Medina of Riverside, who authored the legislation, lauded the bill's signing.
"It's been a long wait," he told The Associated Press. "I think schools are ready now to make curriculum that is more equitable and more reflective of social justice."
While criticism of the course of study has not dissipated, the bill easily passed the California legislature by wide margins.
Newsom vetoed a nearly identical piece of legislation last year, calling for a revision of the curriculum guide that would be "inclusive of all communities."
Former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown also vetoed similar legislation in 2018, recognizing the value of ethnic studies but concluding that schools could offer the course of study without a statewide mandate.
"Ethnic studies courses enable students to learn their own stories - and those of their classmates," Newsom said in a signing statement. "I appreciate that the legislation provides a number of guardrails to ensure that courses will be free from bias or bigotry and appropriate for all students."
A release from Newsom's office also said that the legislation "will help expand educational opportunities in schools, teach students about the diverse communities that comprise California, and boost academic engagement and attainment for students," citing a Stanford University study.
In a statement, Medina made note of the long battle for the implementation of ethnic studies across the state.
"I want to acknowledge the countless young people, high school and college students, teachers and professors, who have organized, demonstrated, boycotted classes, and gone on hunger strikes to demand a more equitable and inclusive educational system," he said. "The signing of AB 101 ... is one step in the long struggle for equal education for all students."
The new law comes as battles over race and education have swirled across the country, notably after the death of George Floyd last year, which prompted a national debate on systemic racism.
Conservatives, who have largely opposed classroom teachings of systemic racism, have launched a crusade against critical race theory, which has examined how America's history of racism continues to reverberate through laws and policies that exist today.