Common Ground: Legislators on Latino studies



Publisher’s note: It’s easy to point to the political-ideological differences of Democrats and Republicans. Mainstream media does a “good job” of producing narratives that fan the flames of the dissent of alt liberals and conservatives. In order to engage in constructive discussion and debate on healthcare, housing, employment, education, security, and other pertinent societal issues; parties must first begin with what both they can agree on. How else will lawmakers get things done for the Connecticut communities they serve? CTLN is committed to providing coverage of the state legislative session and 2020 elections that not only focuses on the divide but more importantly the common ground.

By Bill

Puerto Rican and Latino students at public high schools throughout Connecticut will have the opportunity to learn more about their ethnic history and culture as soon as 2021 thanks to legislation passed in 2019 with strong bipartisan support.

This new educational mandate — House Bill 7092 —  provides an example of how Democrats and Republicans can achieve a common ground on an issue important likely to achieve positive results.

The “Act Concerning the Inclusion of African-American Studies and Puerto Rican and Latino Studies in the Public School Curriculum” requires all local and regional boards of education to offer an approved course to cover what advocates charged is often neglected or falsely characterized ethnic and racial subject matter in the 2022-23 school year — they may do so as early as the 2021-22 term.

This curriculum addition is seen as having broader implications for young Latinos.

“It will spark change beyond our classrooms,” said Tareonna Alger-Rodriguez in testifying in favor of this bill as a student at New London High School as a member of Hearing Youth Voices. “With courses that put our history at the forefront, students become more motivated and more empowered,” she said.

In explaining how a consensus was achieved, State Rep. Robert Sanchez, co-chair of the Education Committee, cited the cooperation of Rep. Kathleen McCarty of Waterford, the leading Republican on the education committee. “I had a great working relationship with the ranking member,” the New Britain Democrat said.

Sanchez said committee members were able to concur on many educational matters during the 2019 session based on an agreement for transparency and “no surprises.”

As a result, Sanchez said, “97 percent of bills that his committee sent to the House floor had unanimous consent.

House Bill 7092 was approved 122-24 in the House. Some Republicans cast dissenting votes, but most voted yes. The bill then sailed through the Senate 37-0 and was signed by Governor Ned Lamont on June 21.

SUGGESTION: House, Senate pass bill adding Puerto Rican, Latino studies to school curriculum

At a legislative public hearing, dozens of people including many blacks and Latinos, as well as some legislators, testified in support of the bill.

Camilia Bortoletto of Connecticut Students for a Dream said that these were difficult times for immigrant communities in Connecticut and in the rest of the country.

“To live unafraid, our immigrant students and students of color need educational institutions that fully support them as whole human beings, and that includes having schools that teach, acknowledge, and support the histories of our communities and our people.”

Camilia Bortoletto, Connecticut Students for a Dream

State Rep. Pat Wilson Pheanious, who represents Ashford, Tolland, and Willington, said, “It’s time that we hear the voices of all those who built America. Only when we have full representation, will we have true American History.”   

Some Latino activists are hoping that the inclusion of these ethnic studies in the public school curriculum will be the foundation for further change.

“Once (state leaders) realize that Latin-American and African-American history are part of American history, they will make them part of a required course,” said Werner Oyanadel, senior policy analyst of the Latino Policy Division, state Commission on Equity and Opportunity.

Sanchez said this option was discussed but was set aside due to additional cost, estimated at $8-10 million, during a tight budget period.

HB 7092 evolved from the combination of two bills, one related to black studies and the other focusing on Latino studies, HB 7903.

Initially, State Rep. Robert Gibson, a Bloomfield Democrat, had proposed HB 7092 to promote black and African studies. This bill was “moving right along,” Oyanadel said.

Meanwhile, Latino legislators had expressed interest in mandating Latino and Puerto Rican studies. “It was something we already had set our sights on,” Sanchez said, with the result being the introduction of HB 7093 which was eventually rolled into HB 7092.

Before the curriculum change is effectuated the State Education Resource Center must develop the appropriate course, which then must be approved by the state Board of Education.

HB 7092 is hardly an in regard to the state recognizing the hardships and achievements of various ethnic groups that make up Connecticut’s diverse population.

In 1997 the legislature mandated teaching about the great Irish potato famine of the 19th Century which had a great impact on immigration to Connecticut and elsewhere.

In 2018, the state Senate, 37-0, and the state House, 147-0, approved a bill that requires Holocaust and genocide studies to be included in the social studies curriculum.

“The teaching of cultural studies, including the histories of racism, oppression, economic hardship, as well as the many accomplishments and contributions of African Americans and Latinos, is terribly important, said State Rep. Christine Palm, a Democrat who represents part of the Connecticut River Valley.

SUGGESTION: Education: Let’s Talk About Racism