The Thursday, Dec. 2 Board of Education (BOE) meeting began with a welcome of new Board members Nicola Davies and Pam Ely and a brief election of officers. Deborah Low was re-elected to the post of BOE chair, Ruth Deluca was elected vice-chair, and Jen Lalor was elected secretary.
The Board then opened the substantive portion of the meeting with a public comment period that introduced one of the central topics of the evening.
Black and Latino Studies Curriculum Questioned
The only person to offer public comment, Dr. Subha Clarke of 125 Nod Hill Road, addressed the Board to object to the curriculum for the proposed new Black and Latino Studies course at Wilton High School. In particular, she challenged the curriculum’s use of the word equity, “a term that denotes race-based discrimination, a tenet of critical race theory” and the inclusion of books by writers Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ibram X. Kendi.
“The curriculum suggests children ask parents about their protest history,” she said. “The role of school is not to encourage riotous rebellion against our country. I do not want my child to graduate high school with the desire to run riot in our streets”
Although the Board does not respond directly to public comments during a meeting, the topic of the state’s new Black and Latino Studies curriculum came up later in the agenda.
Given that the curriculum has been written by the State Department of Education, Low asked for clarity on what percentage of the course content is determined strictly by statute vs. open to district interpretation.
Wilton Public Schools’ Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Chuck Smith said that the district has some leeway to customize what gets taught. “The curriculum itself is state defined, but it’s expansive enough that local schools and teacher are empowered to decide which lessons to use and how to measure student progress.”
In response to a follow up question about whether a set of assumptions are being brought to bear on the course, Chuck Smith said the approach won’t be indoctrination. “It’s not a matter of presenting things as foregone conclusions but rather as points of inquiry — to what extent do these things exist? Our goal is to get students to inquire about these controversial issues, which they will soon confront in college.”
Lalor said she understood that the educators would stay neutral, but wanted to make sure that multiple points of view would be presented, especially with regard to the texts that were used.
“It’s important if children read a book slanted one way that they read a book slanted the other way. Some families are starting to feel that our existing classes are just reading a book that slants one way and having a conversation about it — not reading a book that slants that other way,” Lalor said.
DeLuca responded to the idea of making sure that both sides get represented, suggesting that quality, not just quantity, be considered.
“It’s important that we make historic underpinning be our basis. I get concerned when subjectivity is put into it,” she said, adding, “I would like to see more about this course as it comes together.”
Wilton High School Principal Dr. Bob O’Donnell said that the school had an understanding of how to take what the state had crafted and implement a course that would best suit the district, saying it would be “Wiltonized” to “value and encourage multiple perspectives.”
“I agree with Ruth’s point — you want complementary or differing texts to form different opinions. And Jen’s larger point: making sure there is a variety, spectrum on a reading list,” he said, to offer multiple perspectives.
O’Donnell agreed to report back to the Board as the curriculum comes together.
COVID-19 on the Rise
Superintendent Kevin Smith briefed the Board on the current state of COVID spread within the Wilton Schools, with what he called “a challenging couple of updates.”
“Over the last two weeks, there have been 21 new cases within schools, a dramatic shift from the preceding month.” Smith noted that the last time he gave an update, the Covid Act Now website was reporting less than five new cases a day per 100,000 residents in all of Fairfield County; today the same website reports a daily new case rate of over 16.
He spoke about the state’s “Screen and Stay” protocol, which allows unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students who come into close contact with a fellow student who tests positive to remain in school as long as they were masked or outdoors, and remain symptom-free.
“The benefit of Screen & Stay is that even as we see a rise in Covid, we can still keep kids in school,” he said. “But there are tradeoffs.”
Smith reiterated that the contact had to take place in school only — not during extracurricular or social interactions.
Any parents with questions about the Screen & Stay program or the District’s mask and vaccination policies are encouraged to reach out.
Genesis Programs Stays Put at Trackside
Smith also gave an update on the future of the Genesis program. At the Sept. 26 Board meeting, he announced that Genesis was pursuing a new home at 15 Cannon Rd., the former ABC House, after several years leasing space from the Trackside Teen Center program at its facility on Station Rd.
The two main concerns that Genesis had with remaining at the Trackside location were:
- Overcrowding: Genesis anticipates the program growing beyond the capacity of the current site
- Space-sharing: The realities of sharing a space mean that both Genesis and Trackside teams are required to set up and break down every day
However, Smith delivered an update that the Trackside team approached the district “opening themselves up in partnership.” The two programs have agreed to revise the lease for Genesis to continue operating on the site with a series of compromises to accommodate its current programming and future growth.
He added that the decision to stay at Trackside relieved some concerns that had started to materialize about costs associated with renovations that would have been necessary at the Cannon Rd. location.
The Board of Education will meet again for its next regular meeting on December 16, but will also join the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, and Planning and Zoning Commission on December 8 for a “quad-board” meeting.