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TimesOC: Forum on critical race theory leads to controversy

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TimesOC, a newsletter about Orange County, is published Wednesdays and Fridays.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter.

It’s Friday, July 30. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.

The Orange County Board of Education this week held the first of its controversial series of forums on ethnic studies and critical race theory, topics which have sparked uproar and contentious debate since the state approved new ethnic studies model curriculum in March after almost two years of discussion.

The curriculum is meant to provide students with an opportunity to learn about the history, cultures, struggles and contributions of historically marginalized groups of people. However, some see the coursework as politically motivated or as laying blame on white people.

Reporter Sara Cardine wrote this week that the board organized the two events to provide a way for parents to express their concerns about the curriculum and for experts to weigh in on the topic. However, for weeks the heavily conservative board has faced criticism for organizing a one-sided panel of speakers.

That came to a head on Monday, when one of the panelists, Cal State Northridge professor Theresa Montaño, withdrew from the forum. Each of the five board members invited one guest for the panel. The board’s only Democrat, Beckie Gomez, invited Montaño.

Montaño and a community coalition called Truth in Education organized a news conference Tuesday just a few hours before the board’s forum to voice opposition to the event.

Montaño, who teaches Chicana and Chicano studies, said in an interview at the news 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.

“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,” Montaño said at the news conference.

The forum was held shortly after the news conference. Cardine reported that many passionate parents showed up to the event and voiced their opinions on their children learning about the concepts of white privilege and systematic racism.

Catherine DeCeglie, a mother of two, called critical race theory an “evil ideology.”

“You don’t want our Black, brown and biracial students to succeed, and you want to kick the white students in the teeth for something they have no control over,” she said.

Various panelists spoke about the new curriculum. Walter H. Myers III, an adjunct faculty member at Biola University, spoke about the Marxist history of critical theory. Brandy Shufutinsky, a social worker, researcher and member of the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies, called for a more balanced curriculum.

“Constructive ethnic studies does not put students in the middle of a left-wing versus right-wing tug-of-war,” Shufutinsky said. “Racism and discrimination are approached. However, students are not held responsible for the sins of their foremothers and forefathers.”

The board’s next forum is slated for Aug. 24.

The O.C. Board of Education convenes for the first of two controversial forums on ethnic studies and critical race theory.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

NEWS

— Orange County will provide $20 million for a controversial veterans cemetery in Anaheim Hills that sat in limbo for years due to political inaction and contentious community debate in Irvine. Veterans who have fought for the cemetery for about a decade are excited that the project may finally move forward with the help of the funding. There isn’t currently a cost estimate for the cemetery, but some government officials hope ground can be broken on the cemetery as early as later this year.

— Huntington Beach police are asking the public for assistance in finding a suspect in a fatal hit-and-run collision. It was the second fatal hit-and-run in the city this week.

— The Irvine City Council this week voted to commemorate a historic site where an L.A. County sheriff was shot and killed by a famed outlaw in 1857. Barton Mound has been listed on the state’s historic register for more than 80 years, but has never been marked with a plaque. The council unanimously supported the decision to install the marker, which could cost $15,000.

— The Orange County Great Park will no longer be called the Orange County Great Park after the Irvine City Council voted this week to rename the park to “Great Park.” However, Councilman Larry Agran, who as mayor oversaw much of the park’s development, was the idea’s sole opponent, stating that the name should pay respects to the role the rest of the county played in getting the Great Park to where it is today.

— Disneyland and other theme parks will now require guests to wear masks indoors after the state urged residents this week to wear masks even if they’re vaccinated. The new indoor mask requirement starts today, but masks will remain optional while outside.

SPORTS

— The Los Angeles Chargers opened training camp this week in Costa Mesa. The team will hold 16 open practices over the next three weeks before the season starts. Fans came this week from all over the region to see the Chargers practice. The training camp was closed last year due to the pandemic and will be scaled down this year.

— The trial of a former Angels employee who is suspected of contributing to the overdose death of Tyler Skaggs was delayed for the third time this week. The trial was supposed to begin Aug. 16 but has been delayed to early October. A grand jury indicted the employee last year on counts of conspiring to “possess with the intent to distribute” fentanyl, a dangerous drug that allegedly led to Skaggs’ death.

LIFE & LEISURE

— Fairview Park in Costa Mesa will bring back its Concerts in the Park series starting this Saturday, with free musical performances, food trucks, beer and wine. Three bands will perform on Saturday, including Mexican folk and country bands.

— The popularity of pickleball continues to grow in Southern California and the game’s proponents continue to push for its growth in cities in Orange County. In response to pressure from local pickleball players, the Alta Laguna Park tennis court will be converted into a pickleball court.

Question of the Week

Orange County is a big, diverse community with a bustling entertainment and tourist industry. Yet the county has major hurdles to overcome — homelessness, climate change, political corruption and law enforcement misconduct. Oh, and a pandemic. We want to hear your opinions on these subjects!

Each week, we’ll ask you a new question and post some of the answers in the following newsletter.

Last week, we asked you: Are the Be Well OC teams a step in the right direction for Orange County to deal with mental health issues? Why or why not?

Here are some of the responses we got:

“These teams are a fantastic step forward in recognition that police officers should not be held responsible to mitigate issues for which they are not trained. Police are an excellent tool to keep the peace and enforce the laws. But you don’t tighten a screw with a frying pan. It’s the wrong tool. You don’t hire a plumber to fix a flat tire. Trained Be Well professionals will be a better tool to help in many instances.” —Tim Holland

“If this program is an effort to address homelessness it’s just a new name and an experiment. Services are fine, but Be Well OC is ONLY treating a symptom that can’t be cured with addressing the root cause of addiction and mental illness. Most homeless choose to stay on the street and many are so far gone they don’t know how ill they are. Looking forward to seeing the metric / outcome of what’s accomplished.” —Patrick Rutten

I favor the use of a trained team to deal with calls about mental health crises. There must be an alternative to law enforcement bearing the burden. It will take time to bring up to speed, but it will be a positive change for the long haul. Being mentally ill or in an emotional crisis should not be criminalized. The knowledge is there to help folks, we just need to pay for it! — Bea Volper

Now for this week’s question (please keep your answer to 75 words or less):

What is your view on ethnic studies and critical race theory being taught in schools in Orange County? Explain.

Send your answer here: Ben at benjamin.brazil@latimes.com or Carol at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

Stay in Touch

If you have a memory or story about Orange County, we would love to read it (please keep your story to 100 words or less).

We want your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Send any tips or comments to benjamin.brazil@latimes.com or carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

Keep up with community news on our Orange County page. Follow us on Twitter at @timesocofficial.

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