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POWAY, Calif. – Two new elective courses on racial equity and inclusion are sparking debate amongst parents in the Poway Unified School District.

Concerned community members gathered in front of the district’s headquarters during a board meeting on Thursday afternoon, even though the course was passed last year and was not on the agenda for the meeting.

“The actual ethnic studies courses and ethnic literature courses are not on the agenda,” said Christine Paik, public information officer with Poway School District.

The ethnic studies and ethnic literature courses were approved by the district in December as part of their racial equity and inclusion program.

Parents and community members are claiming the new courses are part of critical race theory.

“For the sake of our students – especially our students of color – I urge the board to one, reject its ideologically-based curriculum knowing that it is based in the power politics of Malcom X,” said Katheren Johnson, who spoke during public comments at the board meeting Thursday.

The district says the two new courses do not follow critical race theory.

“There is no critical race theory being taught as part of the curriculum here at Poway Unified School District. There is no blame or shame, as some of the people are concerned about,” Paik said.

Retired Poway teacher Sophie Bartlett said she is concerned with the curriculum and believes it will lead to racism instead of education.

“They come to school to learn and get an education — from reading, writing, sports, what they are going to become, social skills — all of that, but to start focusing on race is a concern of mine,” Bartlett said.

According to Paik, the course took a year to develop and the district had several conversations with the community about the courses.

The course is only offered to high school students as an elective and can be submitted to University of California for credit in social sciences.