This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: New Requirement of Black and Latino Studies, “School Hesitancy” in Communities of Color, and Targeting Symbols Offensive to Native People
Black and Latino Studies Required in Public Schools
Starting this month, Connecticut will begin to implement a new requirement, passed in 2019: the inclusion of African American, Black, Puerto Rican and Latino studies in the curriculum at each public high school. Two years ago, the legislation had drawn testimony from high schoolers across the state, who said that the existing black history curriculum was often limited to coverage of slavery and civil rights. Notable curriculum gaps surrounding the historical accomplishments and impact of people of color had left some students testifying to feeling isolated, irrelevant, and unseen.
But the new requirements—passed under the legislative leadership of current Education Chairs Senator Douglas McCrory and Representative Robert Sanchez, as well as Representative Bobby Gibson—are designed to build more inclusion, foster greater understanding, and reflect the different heritages within Connecticut's diverse student population. In December 2020, Governor Lamont announced that Connecticut had become the first state in the nation to require all high schools to offer courses on African American, Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino studies. Then-Commissioner Miguel Cardona (now the US Education Secretary) commented that the new curriculum connects the stories of people of color to the larger story of American history.
Will Students of Color Return in the Fall?
With school reopenings on the horizon, educators and advocates continue to voice concern about worsening inequities as a result of the pandemic, and about the possibility that families of color will opt out of reentry into the public education system. Indeed, a May study by the RAND Corporation indicated that Black and Hispanic parents are more hesitant about sending their children back to in-person classrooms than their white counterparts. In New York City, Asian families were the least likely to opt for in-person learning when it was made available last year. A PBS story from Monday showcases the distrust some parents of color feel towards an education system that was inequitable even before the pandemic—often featuring, for example, discriminatory school discipline policies, inadequate resources, and unfairly low academic expectations. Has time away during COVID shown some parents that they are better off on their own? Will schools be equipped to work with families on the topics of attendance and engagement, rather than taking a punitive approach? School districts will need to build trust with parents of color by developing reopening plans targeting many of the systemic inequities that have long impacted their educational experiences.
Senator Osten Leads Action on Symbols Offensive to Native People
Last week, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) released a statement regarding schools with Native American team names or mascots—calling this issue a type of cultural appropriation that is untenable. The use of such caricatures, the CHRO observes, is psychologically harmful to both Native and non-Native students. The time has come to end this practice. Indeed, legislation passed this year will withhold funding under the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund to towns with teams or mascots that reference a state or federally recognized tribe. Senator Cathy Osten, who advocated for the measure, opined that towns using offensive names and imagery should not expect a portion of revenue raised by the same tribes they offend. Senator Osten also sponsored the recently-passed legislation to remove a statue at the State Capitol of Major John Mason, who played a role in the Pequot Massacre in 1637.