‘A historic step forward’: Wilton school board approves new Black and Latino course

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith and Board of Education Chair Deborah Low, pictured here from a previous year, overheard the approval of a motion to allow for the implementation of Black and Latino Studies as an elective next school year.

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith and Board of Education Chair Deborah Low, pictured here from a previous year, overheard the approval of a motion to allow for the implementation of Black and Latino Studies as an elective next school year.

Jarret Liotta / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — The Board of Education approved a new Black and Latino studies course for the town’s high school on Thursday, to be taught starting in the 2022-23 school year.

The course will be offered as an elective and will not be required for all students. According to Superintendent Kevin Smith, the district is “obligated to offer it, but, like other elective course, will only run if there is sufficient student interest.”

While there is a curriculum outlined by the state, which mandated the course be offered as an option, the district will continue to develop its individual lesson plan. Social studies instructional leader Dr. Dave Wilock will work with a team between school years to coordinate with adminstration and assign the course to a teacher in the department.

“I read through the state-developed curriculum and found it to be of very high quality. I think this course will be a very positive enhancement to our U.S. history courses and would encourage all of our students to consider taking it,” Smith said this week. “The opportunity for inquiry and the lens through which U.S. history is being examined in this course will help students generate new questions and insights.”

Per the course scope submitted initially in October, authored by Wilock, Molly Palmer and Lara Fayek, 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.”

Throughout the course, 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.”

The coursework, according to the description, “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.”

“I think its a great thing,” state Rep. Tom O’Dea, who represents Wilton, said Friday.

He added that the only opposition he had to the state mandate was that it demands a full-year, full-credit course. O’Dea argued that more students would have the opportunity to take the course if it was offered as a half-year course so that it was more flexible for students who have limited space to choose electives.

State Sen. Will Haskell congratulated the Wilton Board of Education on Friday on approving the course for instruction next year and said the course material was something he wished was offered while growing up in the Westport school district.

For those who may think this is exclusionary rather than inclusionary, Haskell disagrees.

“This sets a floor, not a ceiling,” he said. “I think this is a historic step forward.”