WILTON \u2014 Initiatives to foster diversity and equity in and out of the classroom are underway at Wilton Public Schools, spurred on by a recent petition from hundreds of former graduates and current students, as well as current events. Last month more than 400 current and former Wilton High School students who identified themselves as either minorities or people of color added support to a letter urging the district to \u201crethink how race is (and is not) discussed in the classroom.\u201d \u201cThe homogeneity of Wilton unintentionally but systematically discourages students from exploring their racial and ethnic identities by depriving them of information and resources,\u201d the letter says. \u201cThe lack of nuanced classroom discussion surrounding race, gender, and sexuality produces well-intentioned ignorance,\u201d it says, \u201cand a dissociation of America\u2019s history with one\u2019s personal identity. \u201cActionable steps for educators and administrators include changes in curriculum, hiring excellent diverse educators, and holding students who make publicly racist remarks accountable,\u201d the letter continues. Yet well before this petition letter was received by school officials, several incidents involving racial remarks and anti-Semitism over the past several years led them to start having conversations aimed at addressing the issues that have been tumultuously brought to the forefront of the public\u2019s attention this past month. \u201cWe kind of began our work around equity and anti-racism more than a year ago,\u201d said Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith. \u201cIn recent years we\u2019ve had some anti-Semitic episodes in our schools \u2026 We\u2019ve had students using really racially offensive language,\u201d he said. \u201cI think we recognize in this community, where it is majority white and majority affluent, we have a need to broaden our perspectives and ensure that our kids have as full a picture as the way the world actually is as possible,\u201d Smith said. Michael Gordon, music teacher at Middlebrook School, has taken on the role of point person for the racial equity and inclusion team for the district. \u201cWe really have to examine what we\u2019re doing here in Wilton,\u201d Gordon said, explaining that while an incident at a basketball game several years ago had Wilton students saying hurtful things to opposing players, simultaneously they still didn\u2019t completely understand what they were saying or why it was so hurtful, which is part of why education is at the heart of making these changes. \u201cWe\u2019re actually putting together a town-wide book study,\u201d he said. \u201cThat way the community can be involved. \u201cThis is not easy,\u201d Gordon said. \u201cThis is not a comfortable conversation but realize where you are in this.\u201d Gordon began his work earlier this school year with teachers, finding a very positive response. \u201cI\u2019ve found that not only are people open to the conversation, but they\u2019re hungry for it,\u201d Smith said, noting that the murder of George Floyd has presented a chance to have that conversation in finer detail. \u201cThat brought a newness to everything where everyone\u2019s eyes are open and now we really have to examine what we\u2019re doing,\u201d Gordon said. He said the district has held seminars in diversity training with teachers, but is also organizing broader meetings that include parents and students. He himself is now hosting a monthly online meeting that\u2019s open to the public, while one student at the high school recently started a Racial Equity and Diversity Club. \u201cEveryone is poised and ready,\u201d he said, with the primary topic not only centering on assuaging racism, but intelligently dismantling the systemic racism underlying it. \u201cThankfully the enthusiasm hasn\u2019t waned,\u201d Gordon said. \u201cI think it\u2019s only grown \u2026 It\u2019s been phenomenal.\u201d \u201cAlthough I am white, I have always been uncomfortable with the race-blind narrative that dominates Wilton and so many other racially privileged homogeneous communities,\u201d wrote Christopher Canary, a 2002 Wilton High School graduate who wrote the Board of Education expressing his support for the petition letter. \u201cPlease do not let this moment slip away as so many opportunities to embrace racial justice have slipped away in the past,\u201d wrote Canary, who now teaches secondary school in Philadelphia. \u201cWe\u2019ve received a couple of additional letters \u2026 recounting difficult experiences (and) offering to be part of the change,\u201d Smith said. Along with the hate-based conduct policy put in place by the Board of Education two years ago, Smith noted at least some new high school courses mindfully geared toward diversity, as well as an increased focus on minority teacher recruitment. \u201cIt\u2019s a commitment we have and I think we\u2019re gaining ground slowly,\u201d he said of new hires. \u201cWilton, like everywhere else in the world I think, is undergoing a significant demographic change,\u201d he said, with the population racially and ethnically diversifying. \u201cAs our community continues to diversify it\u2019s important that the work we do on the schools and our curriculum reflect that diversity,\u201d he said. \u201cPromoting a more informed student body and community through more comprehensive education is a long and continuous process,\u201d said alum Elizabeth Yoon, who co-authored the petition letter, noting that curriculum change \u201ctakes time and continued attention.\u201d \u201cWe received a response from Dr. Kevin Smith commending the letter and its signatories \u2026 While the initial response is positive, these are very early days,\u201d she said. \u201cTo have this conversation is tough because you have to be open,\u201d Gordon said, \u201cyou have to be honest and you have to speak your truth about your perceptions and put yourself out there.\u201d Those interested in taking part in the next public discussion that Gordon is facilitating on July 23 may contact him at GordonM@WiltonPS.org.