Assistant superintendent: New Trumbull High diversity class helps ‘shape the conversation’

Assistant Superintendent Jonathan Budd speaks to the Trumbull Board of Education during its Nov. 10 meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Jonathan Budd speaks to the Trumbull Board of Education during its Nov. 10 meeting.

Zoom screen capture

TRUMBULL — With social studies curricula under scrutiny amid calls for greater inclusivity, Trumbull took a step toward taking a leading role in the upcoming change, Assistant Superintendent Jonathan Budd said.

Budd explained the proposed African American / Black and Puerto Rican / Latino Studies class at the high school to the Board of Education this week. The board, following his recommendation, approved the addition without questions or comment.

The curriculum is being developed by state education officials and is expected to become mandatory for the 2022-23 school year. Budd told the board that Trumbull High School, with its 2,200-student enrollment, could become a leader in how to teach social justice and racial issues.

“Getting in on the ground floor allows us to help shape the conversation,” Budd said.

The year-long class will be an elective for students in grades 10 and up, he said.

“The board’s requirement is to offer it, and the students can elect to take it,” he said. “So not every student must take it, although we might think it is a fine idea if they do. Our requirement is to offer it.”

The class would likely appeal to students with an interest in African American and Latino history, Budd said. He added he expected there would be plenty of interest among the students.

“This course will really meet the needs and interest of students to study this topic in depth,” he said.

The class was in development for more than a year, but took on added significance over the summer, when protests broke out over the seemingly disparate treatment of Black and Hispanic people by law enforcement following the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police. Some of these protests, including one in Trumbull, were led by students and focused on creating school curricula that was more diverse and inclusive.

“For some reason, the school system that I am a part of does not see people like me, like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Lewis Latimer, Langston Hughes, Fanny Lou Hamer, Marcus Garvey or the Tuskegee airmen as essential people of history.

“It doesn’t see the Rosewood Massacre, the bombing of Tulsa or the Tuskegee experiments as necessary accounts of history,” Trumbull High School student Chelsea Morton said at the Aug. 30 student rally on Town Hall Green. “Not recognizing Black people as an integral part of history demeans their humanity in the present. This mindset can lead to more deaths like George Floyd, Attiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice and countless others.”

Budd agreed with the sentiment, and cautioned that the specialized class focused on Black and Hispanic history was “related, but very different” from creating a more integrated and diverse core curriculum.

Conversations about making Trumbull’s social studies instruction more diverse have been ongoing, although they were set back by COVID, Budd said. The problem is there is a lot of United States history, and more is being written every day. With the school year not getting any longer, adding topics to the course of study requires making value judgments.

“You don’t want to go a mile wide and an inch deep,” he said. “These are important topics that deserve in-depth study.”

So, hypothetically, if a school board decides to add the social justice protests of 2020 to its history instruction, perhaps Cotton Mather or Bonnie and Clyde comes out.

“It’s all about trying to find the balance,” he said.

And while balancing the history of all Americans is an ongoing effort, the experiences of Black and Latino people in history will have an expanded presence starting next year, he said.

“It expands the opportunities to learn about social justice, and about people similar to and different from themselves,” Budd said.