At its meeting on Thursday evening (Dec. 16), the Board of Education approved seven proposed new courses for Wilton High School starting in the 2022-2023 school year. One course among them is Black and Latino Studies.
The class will be a full-year elective, with one semester taught on each Black studies and Latino studies. The course will be built on curriculum developed by the State Department of Education, which began requiring schools to offer a course in Black and Latino studies in 2019. Social studies instruction leader Dr. David Wilock told the Board at the Nov. 18 meeting that his department will build lesson plans specific to WHS and assign a teacher during the summer break.
The course is expected to be open to seniors, with U.S. History as a prerequisite, and like all courses, will run only if enough students enroll. Materials presented during the Nov. 18 meeting offered a course description:
“The course is an opportunity for students to explore accomplishments, struggles, intersections, perspectives, and collaborations of African American/Black and Puerto Rican/Latino people in the U.S. Students will examine how historical movements, legislation, and wars affected the citizenship rights of these groups and how they, both separately and together, worked to build U.S. cultural and economic wealth and create more just societies in local, national, and international contexts. Coursework will provide students with tools to identify historic and contemporary tensions around race and difference; map economic and racial disparities over time; strengthen their own identity development; and address bias in their communities.”
While the course was approved by the BOE last Thursday with no discussion, it has received more attention than some of the other proposed new courses during prior meetings and outside of board meetings.
The course and curriculum have been part of the wider national conversation around race in schools, with the topic of how diversity and equity are taught and incorporated into school culture becoming a focal point. Most notably around the November elections, the mention of Critical Race Theory drove debate between candidates and supporters, and at times the discussion became contentious in other Connecticut districts.
The course itself has had its own detractors in Wilton.
At the BOE meeting on Dec. 2, one such Wilton resident was Dr. Subha Clarke, who addressed the Board during public comment to object to the 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.”
Clarke’s comments didn’t sit well with residents Ralph and Rosalyn McCauley (pictured above), who addressed them to the BOE during public comment at the end of last Thursday’s (Dec. 16) meeting. They said statements about the course promoting rioting were “a bit offensive” and that the course was necessary “given current climates.” The McCauleys encouraged the district to collect and share data from the course so that “unfounded opinion, unfounded comments aren’t fed through the community.”
During the BOE’s Dec. 2 discussion about the course, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Dr. 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.”
Later that evening, Board member Jennifer 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.
Wilton resident Mellissa Mathews submitted a comment on the GOOD Morning Wilton article reporting on that Dec. 2 meeting, and said Lalor’s comment “perplexed her.”
“I am a black and Latina resident and owner in Wilton who loves being in this town. I am perplexed by Jen Lalor’s comment about reading a book that ‘slants that other way.’ What is the ‘other way’ you are hoping a book slants with regards to Black and Latino studies?”
She also referred to WHS Principal Dr. Robert O’Donnell‘s comments during the Dec. 2 meeting, when he told the BOE that the district would take the curriculum crafted by the state and implement a course individualized for Wilton, saying it would be “Wiltonized” to “value and encourage multiple perspectives.”.
Mathews called O’Donnell’s comment “unsettling.”
“I’d like to know more about how the course on Black and Latino Studies will be ‘Wiltonized’ and still meet the objectives of the course. My kids are a long ways away from High School, but I’ll be paying attention,” she wrote.
Notably, when it came time to vote on approving the course last Thursday, it was Lalor who made the motion to approve it, seconded by BOE member Pam Ely. It passed unanimously 5-0.