When Newport Beach attorney Marci Lerner Miller of Potomac Law Group learned that the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) board had approved a curriculum discussing Jewish people without the input of the community, she was shocked.
As a 30-year resident of Orange County, Miller assumed there would be transparency in implementing Assembly Bill (AB) 101, which includes an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum requirement.
But instead, the school board allegedly kept the creation of the curriculum secret instead of allowing it to be reviewed by the general public.
“It’s not what we should expect from school board members,” Miller told OrangeCountyLawyers.com. “We should expect them to teach understanding, to teach acceptance, and to teach students how to live in this new multicultural, multi-ethnic county that we celebrate.”
The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum requirement emerged after AB 101 was approved by the legislature in 2021, requiring at least one semester of ethnic studies in Grades 9 through 12.
The law also allows school districts to create their own curriculum as long as it stays within the parameters of the law.
“The school district has few Jewish students but it does have some,” said L. Rachel Lerman, vice chair and general counsel for the Louis D Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. “Part of the problem is whether Jewish students in class are harassed, which would be important, and we also don’t want children of other ethnicities being taught that Jews are bad. That’s not good for the community.”
Miller and Lerman are among the plaintiffs who sued the SAUSD board alleging violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act rules.
Download Filing HERE
While the Brown Act prohibits secret legislation by public bodies and requires open meetings, the lawsuit alleges that Santa Ana’s ethnic studies course includes controversial and antisemitic content.
“Notes recently obtained through a Public Records Act (PRA) request show that the committee working to develop the courses was well aware of what it called the “Jewish question”—i.e., potential objections from the Jewish community to antisemitic content included in the courses,” Miller wrote in the Sept. 8 complaint. “Instead of talking to the Jewish community, however, the committee chose to get advice from organizations with a history of antisemitism on how to ‘handle’ the Jews.”
The plaintiffs, which include the Louis Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League want the court to nullify Board decisions and course approvals.
“We think that the reason they kept it from the public is they expected pushback and they didn’t want pushback,” Lerman told OrangeCountyLawyers.com. “Sometimes when you have to do things in public, you’re more cautious about what you include.”
The plaintiffs also accuse the board of failing to take action when Jewish attendees at a May 23 board meeting were allegedly harassed and intimidated by other attendees on the basis of appearing or being Jewish.
“The board has not responded to us in the many months that we’ve tried to talk with them,” Lerman added. “The superintendent is talking with the Jewish Federation and that’s very helpful. But, we need to be talking to the board members, too. They’re the ones that decide this. That’s how it works.”
SAUSD board president Carolyn Torres did not respond to requests for comment.
Juliette Fairley covers legal topics for various publications including the Southern California Record, the Epoch Times and Pacer Monitor-News. Prior to discovering she had an ease and facility for law, Juliette lived in Orange County and Los Angeles where she pursued acting in television and film.