Trumbull BOE adopts equity statement, but some parents say more is needed

Trumbull Superintendent of Schools Martin Semml (far right) speaks during the July 12, 2022 meeting of the Trumbull Board of Education.

Trumbull Superintendent of Schools Martin Semml (far right) speaks during the July 12, 2022 meeting of the Trumbull Board of Education.

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TRUMBULL — The Board of Education recently adopted an equity position statement that officials said aims to create an inclusive school system, though some community members argue it doesn’t go far enough.

Trumbull Superintendent of Schools Martin Semmel said at Tuesday’s meeting that the statement strives to help “create an inclusive student-centered rigorous and equitable school system through our beliefs, words and actions.”

However, some individuals who spoke during the meeting’s public comment section said the board should do more to address the concerns of certain groups — including parents who have criticized the board and superintendent, and community members who said schools should be closed on some Muslim holidays.

During the meeting, Semmel presented the final draft of the of equity position statement, which has been in the works for months. The statement is about two pages long and lays out lists of expectations for students, educators and families in the district.

“Creating, supporting, and sustaining a culture of access and equity requires being responsive to students' backgrounds, experiences, cultural perspectives, traditions, knowledge, interests, and abilities when designing, implementing, and assessing our programs of instruction,” the statement reads.

Semmel said creating the statement was one of the district goals for the 2021-2022 school year.

“No matter what you do with goal setting as an individual or in an organization, you’re always going to have times when you don’t meet the ideal that you’re trying to meet but this is what we’re trying and striving to do as a district,” Semmel said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The board discussed the statement only briefly at Tuesday’s meeting before approving it. Board member Julia McNamee applauded those involved with the statement.

“I just want to say thank you,” she said. “I know there’s been a lot of work on this and it’s terrific. I’m really glad that we’re putting this out. I think it’s a good starting point.”

Semmel said the newly adopted statement will be added to the district’s website.

Some members of the community stated during public comment that this commitment to inclusivity is hypocritical and accused the board and the superintendent of being hostile to critics.

Trumbull resident and parent Gloria Manna said she was upset that a letter she wrote to the school board criticizing the equity position statement was shared with non-board members. She added town officials have posted online that all correspondence is up for publication but argued that she is not an elected official.

“I do not represent the residents of the town of Trumbull,” she said. “I never took an oath of office to defend and protect the constitution. You did.”

Another parent, Amanda Dombrowski, said she also has been criticized for her dissenting views. “You expect your children to be accepting, but you, the adults, can’t even accept someone who has a different opinion,” she said.

Dombrowski said she’s spoken to “several teenagers” who don’t think efforts such as the equity statement are a priority.

“They don’t care about the equality,” she said. “They care about passing their physics (and) their AP English.”

Others pointed out a different irony in the equity position statement. Parent and Trumbull resident Loay Aljammal said he was concerned that the district hasn’t made the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr an official school holiday.

“Muslim students celebrate Eid while sacrificing their school work, which will affect their academic progress, because they have to choose between celebrating their holidays and missing school work and exams,” Aljammal said.

He said, if the district truly values inclusivity, they will take the path of other districts, including Bridgeport, and declare Eid a holiday.

“Muslim students do not feel a sense of belonging and inclusion because their holidays are not included in the school’s calendar, which puts the district’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity and equity in question,” Aljammal said.