Letter: Fix ‘racial injustice’ at Trumbull High

Trumbull High English teacher Matt Bracksieck addresses the Board of Education about antiracism efforts at the board’s July 14 meeting.

Trumbull High English teacher Matt Bracksieck addresses the Board of Education about antiracism efforts at the board’s July 14 meeting.

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TRUMBULL — Just weeks after Trumbull High School students rallied for more inclusion and diversity in their education, the school’s alumni and teaching staff are adding their voices to the chorus.

“This really grew organically out of hearing the concerns from the current students,” said Michael Smith, a 2011 graduate. “This is something that spreads across generations.”

Smith and a small group of fellow alums recently drafted a letter to the Trumbull Board of Education and new Superintendent Martin Semmel. The letter is co-signed by 402 Trumbull High School graduates. Most of the signers are from the relatively recent classes, but the list includes graduates dating back as far as 1964.

“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, Elijah McClain, and countless other Black Americans have sparked a long-overdue national conversation on racial justice and the pervasiveness of systemic racism in the United States,” the letter reads. “As proud students and alumni of TPS, we believe that TPS has both an invaluable opportunity and a civic duty to lead our community in conversations and actions that address racial injustice.”

Smith and the other writers acknowledged the “exceptional” education they received in Trumbull, but lamented that they had not been allowed to critically engage the legacy of racism in American society.

“Too often, our education lacked explicit and critical explorations of race, and ignored stories of Black Americans and other marginalized people,” they wrote. “This lack of storytelling, history, and integration of diverse perspectives contributed directly to patterns of racist behavior experienced by Trumbull students of color, while many white students (graduated) without ever acknowledging their privilege or biases.”

In this way, their education failed them, the letter said.

“No curriculum is neutral. The decision of what is and is not taught to Trumbull students — what stories are told, how they are told, and who tells them — is an active choice made by those with the power to shape and direct educational policy,” they wrote. “Racism is pervasive in every aspect of American society, and a majority-white town like ours is far from immune from its insidious effects. Anti-racism requires that we look beyond the status quo to ensure that the direction of our educational system points toward justice.”

The graduates ended the letter by calling on Trumbull schools to take action to make the district’s curriculum and culture anti-racist.

“Our public schools have the unique responsibility of educating the next generation,” they wrote. “We urge you, as our local leaders, to use the tools at your disposal to ensure that our students receive an education that prepares them to be active participants in the creation of a more just and equitable society.”

The former students aren’t alone in their desire to see Trumbull’s curriculum become more inclusive. Trumbull High English teacher Matt Bracksieck recently submitted a similar statement to the Board of Education on behalf of the group Trumbull Educators Against Racism.

“Before we can teach our students how to be the change they wish to see in the world, we as teachers acknowledge that we have to educate ourselves first and then create the environment where our students feel safe as we build an anti-racist community together,” Bracksieck wrote.

The statement, which also references the Trumbull Education Association and the PTSA Council, calls for mandatory staff training on implicit bias, a curriculum review to reinforce diversity and anti-racism, a review of disciplinary procedures to ensure they do not unduly affect minority students, increased recruitment of teachers of color, a civil rights committee to investigate allegations of discrimination, and more.

“Racism in any way, shape, or form has no place in the Trumbull Public Schools,” Bracksieck wrote.