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Coalition holds press conference in opposition to controversial O.C. Board of Education ethnic studies forum

Dr. Theresa Montaño speaks during a press conference on Tuesday at Eastbluff Elementary School in Newport Beach.
Dr. Theresa Montaño, a former Board of Education Ethnic Studies panelist and CSUN Chicano Studies professor, speaks during a Truth in Education press conference on Tuesday at Eastbluff Elementary School in Newport Beach. Montaño, announced she is withdrawing her participation in protest over the Forum’s apparent opposition to Ethnic Studies.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

A community coalition held a press conference on Tuesday to voice opposition to the Orange County Board of Education’s controversial forums on ethnic studies and critical race theory.

The event was held just a few hours before the first forum, but for weeks the heavily conservative board has faced criticism for organizing a one-sided panel of speakers for their two forums on Tuesday night and Aug. 24.

The gathering was organized by the Truth in Education coalition, which is made up of parents, students, religious leaders and educators from Orange County. The coalition organized the press conference with Cal State Northridge professor Theresa Montaño, who resigned from the panel earlier this week.

Each of the five board members invited one guest for the panel. The board’s only Democrat, Beckie Gomez, invited Montaño.

Montaño said in an interview at the press conference that she considered that there wouldn’t be a pro-ethnic studies voice at the forum without her appearance, but she ultimately chose to not attend because it seemed like the event would be slanted and lack room for meaningful dialogue. Activists and scholars also warned her that the event could be unsafe, she said.

The forums were originally planned to be held at a venue in Rossmoor, but trustees determined the security costs would be too high. The board instead opted to hold the meetings at its Costa Mesa location.

“If I had felt that tonight was going to open the door to meaningful dialogue, and a meaningful exchange of how to implement ethnic studies, whether I was the only voice, or more than one voice, I would have attended,” said Montaño, who teaches Chicana and Chicano studies.

More than a dozen people gathered in front of Eastbluff Elementary School in Newport Beach for the demonstration against the board, just a few minutes away from where the first forum was held. While the speakers took turns at the microphone, a few people stood behind them with signs saying “With Justice and Equity for All” and “Stop the Hate Educate.”

“I’d like to state publicly that the so-called expert panel of people who will be speaking at the O.C. Board of Education hearing later today are not speaking from the experience of ethnic studies,” said Jose Paolo Magcalas, a trustee for the Anaheim Elementary School District and assistant professor at Cal State Los Angeles.

“They want to spread misinformation, they want to spread lies. Shame on them and shame on the organizers of this public hearing. I highly urge the public to seek the truth, empirical research from the actual researchers who study ethnic studies in schools, and of course the educators who’ve actually taught these amazing classes.”

Jose Paolo Magacalas speaks Tuesday at Eastbluff Elementary School in Newport Beach.
Jose Paolo Magacalas, Anaheim Elementary School District trustee, speaks during a Truth in Education press conference on Tuesday at Eastbluff Elementary School in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The state approved the ethnic studies model curriculum in March after almost two years of discussion. It’s meant to provide students with an opportunity to learn about the history, cultures, struggles and contributions of historically marginalized groups of people.

“I can tell you that there was a great deal of work and care that goes into creating a welcoming and safe environment for all students, whether they are white or students of color,” Santa Ana teacher Roselinn Lee, who was on the 2020 ethnic studies model curriculum advisory committee, said at the press conference. “No one is made to feel that they are responsible for the ills of the past but, rather, are inspired to address the ways to move forward in the future.”

The O.C. Board of Education has regularly stirred controversy. Last year, the board sparked outrage when members voted to reopen schools in the fall without mandatory masks or increased social distancing. The vote came as COVID-19 cases surged and as a large contingent of anti-maskers emerged in Orange County.

The board doesn’t determine much of anything for Orange County schools. Members, who are elected to four-year terms, approve charter schools and hear interdistrict transfer and expulsion appeals.

The board also approves the annual budget of the Orange County Department of Education, which is distinct from the board. The department held its own forum last week to dispel rumors about ethnic studies and critical race theory. Experts, university researchers and superintendents shared the benefits of the curriculum.

Members of Truth in Education hold up signs during a press conference at Eastbluff Elementary School.
Members of Truth in Education, a community coalition of Orange County parents, students, clergy and educators, hold up signs during a press conference on Tuesday at Eastbluff Elementary School in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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