Dissenting Opinion: PRA Requests Support Teacher Accountability 

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On March 6, 2024, the M-A Chronicle published an opinion piece titled, “Opinion: Ethnic Studies Records Requests Do More Harm Than Good.” The article referenced two Public Records Act (PRA) requests issued by third-party organizations that followed a controversial lesson that was given to three Ethnic Studies classes.

The previous op-ed’s position was that intrusive records requests from outside organizations are unnecessary and hinder teachers’ ability to facilitate deep discussions about current events such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, more than they address bias, such as antisemitism. It dismissed the validity of the records request, characterizing the PRAs as a waste of time and an overreaction by Jewish ally groups.

However, these requests are a necessary response to a biased lesson that violated education codes and caused real harm to the Jewish community at M-A. Transparency will help rebuild trust with M-A families and hold teachers accountable for the materials they present, especially in Ethnic Studies classes.

After October 7, when Hamas, an independent terrorist group and the authoritarian government over the Palestinian people in Gaza invaded Israel in the largest attack on the Jews since the Holocaust, M-A Jewish parents came together to support one another. Parents voiced disappointment at the weak message from the District regarding the massacre, especially in light of the swastikas that were found on campus last year. A smaller group of parents then approached Principal Karl Losekoot, hoping to address the rising climate of antisemitism at M-A and the need for school-wide communication on hate speech.

However, when inaccurate slides from a lesson given to Ethnic Studies students about the massacre publicly surfaced, parents shifted to focus on the issues within the lecture. They were very concerned that a lesson presented to three Ethnic Studies classes distorted and minimized the Holocaust, included inaccurate content about the region (like a map created by an anti-Israel advocacy group), and used YouTube videos made by TRT World, a Turkish state-owned media company which has a historic bias against Israel. It presented a one-sided narrative to approximately 90 freshmen, most of whom had previously received little to no education about the history of the region. 

These parents expected that swift, decisive, and restorative measures would be taken given the unbalanced approach to the controversial topic, an explicit violation of SUHSD Policy 6144. Losekoot sent communication to staff that the conflict was not to be discussed in class after the lesson came to light, but while parents continued to meet and correspond regularly with school and District administration, restorative efforts to reteach the material were not taken until five months later.

Image of slideshow from lesson.

Because this lesson was given to freshmen who haven’t yet studied the Holocaust or the founding of Israel in high school, they don’t have sufficient background knowledge for this lesson. Besides factual inaccuracies, the slides build a case that the State of Israel is illegal and that Israel stole Palestinian land. AB 101 states that an Ethnic Studies course shall not discriminate against any person or group of persons on the basis of nationality, race, or religion. Ed Code § 49091.12 and District policies 6144 and 6161.1 also “prohibit the teaching of biased or discriminatory content.” Suffice to say, the lesson influences students to regard Jews and Israel with negativity and violates the education code and District policy.

There is a difference between nuanced class discussions and one-sided presentations. Teachers should be held accountable when the lessons are harmful and hurt their students. While there was added verbal context to the presentation, no verbal context can excuse the bias and misinformation that was included in the slides.

At no point were students’ families notified directly about the misinformation or the reteaching of the lessons from the administration. When the reteaching finally took place, the teachers only corrected some of the inaccuracies parents requested be addressed. Moreover, the lessons were not observed by a neutral party or administrator to gauge the context and exact messaging, which had also been requested.

In cases as serious as this one, parents should be immediately notified that their child was involved and taught misinformation, and any materials–including reteaching lessons–should be publicly available for all community members.

While the author of the previous op-ed correctly pointed out a few areas where the lesson could have been improved: its “oversimplified view of the conflict” and that it “didn’t address the fact that many Jewish people and Israelis strongly oppose the actions of the Netanyahu administration,” the lesson didn’t simply lack balance or fail to adequately portray nuance and complexity; it framed Israel as the oppressor. Furthermore, it failed to mention Hamas’ charter and vow to eradicate the Jewish state of Israel, or that Hamas has been designated by the U.S. Government as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The creators of the lesson cherry-picked details, conveyed misinformation, and used sources that lacked credibility.

The author also stated the PRA caused “more harm than the initial presentation” and that PRA is a “disproportionate reaction.” This is a harsh minimization of the pain felt by M-A’s Jewish community. The content of the lecture is painful, and it’s also upsetting for Jewish community members to consider that there are students walking around the school understanding the lesson’s inaccurate content to be fact. In the op-ed, there appears to be more blaming of the people asking for transparency than criticism of the educators who were negligent by promoting falsehoods. It doesn’t contemplate the possibility that the PRA process will support teacher accountability and allow trust between M-A and its Jewish community to be restored. 

Image of slideshow from the lesson.

The PRA wasn’t “unnecessarily intrusive” given the violation of trust and the subsequent lack of teacher accountability at a time when Jewish Americans were already feeling disillusioned, scared, and unsafe. In the two-month period following the Hamas massacre, the U.S. experienced a 337% increase in acts of antisemitism in the U.S. 

The organizations who requested records are specifically working to uphold the guardrails of California’s AB 101, which prohibits the use of an anti-Jewish version of Ethnic Studies that was outlawed in the state when the Ethnic Studies mandate passed. 

The op-ed states, “If teachers truly did feel that they needed to hide the materials they were teaching, they would not be teaching it to a classroom full of high school students.” We should not burden Ethnic Studies students with the responsibility of flagging problematic content nor can we trust that teachers are always aware that they are delivering biased content to their students. The PRA process can help refine the Ethnic Studies framework where it’s simply not meeting the goals of the curriculum and can assist the District in targeting professional development where it’s needed most in order to avoid future use of misinformation, intentional or not.

The first opinion says that the PRA was unnecessary because some parents were already working in partnership with administrators. Just because parents were already working with administration does not limit them to filing a PRA request. On the one hand, there is a focus on restorative measures to improve the current Ethnic Studies curriculum framework and to support broader education on antisemitism, Jewish history, and the Holocaust in our school. On the other hand, an incomplete and slow response necessitates legal action.

Michelle DeHaaff, a Jewish parent who was part of the group that has been meeting with Losekoot and District leadership shared her perspective on the PRA: “I understand that having to take time out to fulfill a records request is both arduous and frustrating. Our teachers give our kids the tools to be critical thinkers and should be proud of their work. It saddens me that there was content delivered that not only didn’t live up to the amazing quality that we are used to at M-A, but was patently false, in some cases harmful, and the delivery of that content was not transparent to the families of students in the classes and to the broader community, triggering this records request.”  

The view that only a targeted group should be speaking up for themselves undermines allyship. Divisive, false content like this should disturb every parent, not just the parents of Jewish students. Every parent should hope that Ethnic Studies does not advance the political views of a single teacher or misinform their students. Put simply, it’s unfortunate that teachers who work hard to present factually correct and balanced content that encourages critical thinking to their students are being asked to spend their time and energy on the records requests. However, the teachers who deliver controversial content should be transparent about their work and held accountable for the harm caused to students and M-A’s Jewish community. Numerous education codes and policies were violated and trust was breached. The result of these violations has impacted and minimized the pain of the Jewish community.

Especially in these early years of implementing the Ethnic Studies curriculum, one would imagine that transparency and partnership would be valued by teachers, administrators, students, and parents. Given the breach of trust that occurred at M-A and the context of an increase in antisemitic sentiment and incidents in our school and district-wide, accountability should be upheld. Therefore, the PRA process is crucial for teachers to submit their work and to understand and uphold the expectations regarding the Ethnic Studies curriculum.

Rose is a sophomore at M-A and this is her first year in journalism. She enjoys writing about pop culture and issues affecting the M-A community. In her free time, Rose enjoys exercising, going to concerts, and spending time with friends and family.

Micaela is a sophomore at M-A. This is her first year in journalism, and she is excited to write about different issues and events at M-A. In her free time, she likes to dance and spend time with friends and family.

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