Nonprofit sues MVLA over documents on ethnic studies course


The Deborah Project, a Maryland-based nonprofit law group that represents Jewish and pro-Israel interests, filed the lawsuit after not receiving the documents it requested in February to investigate whether MVLA had adopted an “overly anti-Israel, antisemitic and anti-Zionist teaching program.”

According to the case initiation filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court June 7, the Deborah Project sought records related to teaching “ethnic studies,” “Zionism,” “Israel,” “Palestine” and “Arab-Americans.” MVLA allegedly did not provide a response to the Deborah Project about whether it had disclosable records in its possession within 10 days, which the law requires. The district has since responded but has yet to hand over any records, the lawsuit alleges.

Superintendent Nellie Meyer did not say why it has taken MVLA so long to respond to the Public Records request but did tell the Town Crier that administrators are cooperating with the Deborah Project to deliver the documents.

Deborah Project representatives said the case would end once MVLA turns over the documents, but that the district should be responsible for covering the Deborah Project’s legal costs incurred for filing the lawsuit, according to the law group’s legal director Lori Lowenthal Marcus.

When asked for comment, MVLA Board of Trustees President Phil Faillace referred the Town Crier to his statement to the Jewish News of Northern California, which reported on the lawsuit July 5.

“It is a long and well-established practice of the District not to authorize anyone other than attorneys representing the District to speak on its behalf about matters pending litigation,” he told the publication.

Ethnic studies course has its critics

Under a state law passed in 2021, high schools must begin offering ethnic studies courses in the 2025-2026 school year.

The lawsuit represents another hurdle for MVLA as it attempts to introduce a yearlong ethnic studies course for all freshmen at the start of the new school year, which begins Aug. 9. Los Altos and Mountain View high schools offered a pilot course for freshmen last school year, to which students and educators have anecdotally responded positively, according to public comments made at several board meetings in recent months.

However, members of the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies (ACES), a coalition lobbying against “liberated” ethnic studies courses, demanded changes to the curriculum and termination of MVLA’s relationship with Acosta Educational Partnership (AEP), an educational consultancy firm some advocates have deemed antisemitic. The district acquiesced to the latter.

The Deborah Project’s lawsuit echoes sentiments similar to those of ACES and associated MVLA parents, who have called the MVLA ethnic studies program “overtly anti-Israel, antisemitic and anti-Zionist.” ACES expressed concerns about the teacher training provided by AEP, prompting ACES to seek records from MVLA under the suspicion that AEP was instilling antisemitic ideology in the lessons and urging educators to hide the teaching materials from district supervisors and the public.

“I have reviewed the ethnic studies units and lessons posted on the MVLA website,” Marcus said in an email to the Town Crier. “Much of the information seems pertinent, while other materials raised questions for me, especially where the linked material was not made accessible.”

She added that the Deborah Project is prepared to pursue litigation if it finds that MVLA is using unlawful teaching practices.

District defends curriculum

MVLA officials have not publicly explained why they terminated the $45,000 contract with AEP, but Curtis Acosta, director of AEP, confirmed that district ended the partnership prematurely. Only two training sessions took place, MVLA ethnic studies teachers reported, both of which were mainly discussion based and did not delve into specific lesson plans.

Curriculum materials, which were still being fine-tuned through the end of the past school year, were made available online prior to an April 3 study session. The curriculum task force presented the curriculum in two study sessions to the MVLA board, which formally approved the course June 5. Materials from AEP were not shared – however, MVLA educators who participated in the training said there were few documents involved in the sessions. There were slideshows, but the actual files were not shared with teachers, likely because they are AEP’s proprietary material.

Kevin Heiken, MVLA ethnic studies task force member and staff adviser for the Mountain View High Jewish Student Union, said there were no handouts or materials shared with staff in the training sessions. Additionally, he asserted that at no point was there “anything remotely antisemitic being discussed, or even a vibe given off,” and that he held AEP founder Acosta in high regard. The controversy alleging antisemitism in the pilot course caught Heiken off-guard.

“As a Jewish person and the staff adviser for the Jewish Student Union at MVHS, the only time Jewish identity ever came up was when I brought it up as a part of my own identity,” he said. “My colleagues have been incredibly supportive of the importance of Jewish identity in the ethnic studies class. It was a little bit surprising that this was the accusation leveled at the trainings and the course, because it was the furthest thing from my mind as a Jewish educator that that was going to be the problem.”

Meyer also asserted that the curriculum contains no antisemitic material.

“We at MVLA do not have any antisemitic content nor references to anything resembling antisemitism,” Meyer wrote in an email to the Town Crier. “In fact, the purpose of our new course is to increase respect for the diverse populations we serve. We welcome a continued thorough review of our course; our board has reviewed the units created by our teacher teams and has provided information in an ongoing fashion throughout the writing and approval process.”

Heiken, who was involved in developing the curriculum over the past couple of years and taught the pilot course last year, emphasized his belief that fears surrounding the program would fade once more students take the class.

“This class has been thoughtfully made to be tailored to the students at our school district,” he said. “The students who took the pilot course both at Mountain View and Los Altos reported a really positive experience – they felt that the course was really empowering and fun and rigorous and supportive.”

The course remains on track to be fully implemented for all MVLA freshmen this fall.