MVLA faces lawsuit seeking records about ethnic studies program

A Maryland-based legal group is suing the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District (MVLA) aiming to get the district to turn over records related to its ethnic studies program.

The Deborah Project – a nonprofit that represents those alleging discrimination in educational settings because they are Jewish or “pro-Israel” – sued the school district in Santa Clara County Superior Court last month, claiming that it had failed to turn over records that the group sought under the California Public Records Act. The Los Altos Town Crier previously reported on the lawsuit.

The Deborah Project’s website shows that it has filed at least two other lawsuits related to ethnic studies programs in California, one in Hayward and the other in Los Angeles.

MVLA’s school board has approved plans for all freshmen to take an ethnic studies course starting this fall, following a pilot version of the class that was offered as an elective last school year. The decision comes ahead of a state requirement that California high schools offer a one-semester ethnic studies class starting in the 2025-26 school year. MVLA’s version will be a full-year course.

District officials have described ethnic studies as the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity, with a focus on the experiences and contributions of people of color, and have said that the course will be an important way to build a sense of community among students from diverse backgrounds.

According to the suit, The Deborah Project filed a public records request in February, seeking records related to teaching about “ethnic studies,” “Zionism,” “Zionists,” “Israel,” “Palestine,” “Palestinians,” “Arabs” and “Arab-Americans.” The district hasn’t turned over any documents and failed to provide an initial response by the legally required deadline, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit states that The Deborah Project was seeking records about an “overtly anti-Israel, antisemitic and anti-Zionist teaching program.”

In an interview, Deborah Project Legal Director Lori Lowenthal Marcus said that she doesn’t currently have evidence that the school district is teaching material that The Deborah Project would consider antisemitic or otherwise objectionable, but that some parents had concerns about the curriculum and this is what the group hopes to determine through the documents it seeks.

If The Deborah Project receives records that it believes show the ethnic studies program violates the law, Marcus said the nonprofit is prepared to file a second suit challenging that material.

MVLA Superintendent Nellie Meyer told the Voice in an email that the district is working with the Deborah Project “to ensure that they have access to review all of the documents they have requested.”

Meyer also pushed back on the antisemitism allegations and said that the district has made the units of study within the ethnic studies course available for those with concerns to review.

“We at MVLA do not have any antisemitic content nor references to anything resembling antisemitism within any of our courses … In fact, the purpose of our new ethnic studies course is to increase respect for the diverse populations we serve,” Meyer wrote.

The district has spent several years developing its ethnic studies curriculum. In the months before it was formally approved, the plans generated some controversy locally, with both supporters and opponents of the course speaking at board meetings.

At multiple meetings this spring, teachers presented the board with details about the planned curriculum, which includes material about Jewish identity and experiences. At an April board meeting, a teacher told the board that the course incorporates a diverse range of Jewish voices, as well as exploring antisemitism and the need to combat it.