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



Puerto Rican, Latino and African-American studies will become part of every school district’s high school curriculum starting in 2021 under a bill passed by both the House and the Senate.

The bill passed on a 122-24 vote, with many legislators offering impassioned testimony about the need for the bill. The Senate voted unanimously to pass the bill. It now heads to the governor for his signature.

Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, who taught for 35 years in Hartford schools said that for years “American history seemed to be a long catalog of kings, presidents, generals, a few industrialists and a couple of investors, that was about it.”

“Everybody else seemed to get short shrift in American history,” Vargas continued. “Unfortunately, religious, racial and ethnic groups, women, minorities, labor, unions — all these movements in America — they were lucky if they got one or two lines in one of our history books, a quick mention, almost as if they were insignificant.”

Senator Doug McCrory, the Senate Chair of the legislature’s Education Committee and educator for 27 years, said all successful school curriculums have the “three R’s” in common — they are rigorous, relevant and create a relationship with students.

For too long, black and Hispanic students have not had a personal relationship with school curriculums when it comes to history and social studies, McCrory said.

The bill authorizes the State Education Resource Center to develop the one-credit course for high school students and calls on the State Board of Education to approve it no later than Jan. 1, 2021.

The bill says school districts may offer the course starting in July of 2021, and “shall” offer it by July, 2022.

The fiscal note for the development of the course includes one-time costs of $400,000 for curriculum development as well as the annual salary of a full time staff member — $85,000 plus $35,012 in fringe benefits — to ensure that districts meet the requirement.

While students will not be required to take the class — it will be an elective — school districts will be required to offer it.

The bill requires the state Department of Education to conduct an audit from July, 2022 through July 2024 to ensure the course is being offered by each local and regional board of education.

But there were those who raised concerns with the bill.

Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, asked why the state should mandate a course on a “particular culture and it’s not mandated that we offer it about every other culture? It’s specific to just two.”

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said it is “unprecedented the way we have gone with this legislation.”

He said it would be better if black and Latino studies were incorporated into the current history and social studies curriculum, rather than offered as a separate one-credit course.

With all the requirements students have, he said, it will be difficult for students to take the elective.

“I think it’s well-intended,” Candelora said of the bill, “but I don’t think it’s structured in a meaningful way that boards of education can implement and I would hope that we’d take a look at this again and properly incorporate it into our curriculum.”

Rep. Pat Wilson Pheanious, D-Ashford, responded to critics of the bill, saying “You ask why it needs to mandated. It needs to be mandated because it has not happened.”

“Some of us are consistently left out of history,” Wilson Pheanious said. “There is an appalling lack of knowledge about the value and the contributions of people of color… All children have a right to this knowledge. All children need to understand it so they can understand who they are as Americans.”

Wilson Pheanious said she doesn’t think black and Latino history will be taught “until someone develops a curriculum that can uniformly be provided.”