A petition demanding that history of Black, Indigenious and other people of color be included in history classes taught in the Verona Area School District is circulating.
The petition, started by Christopher Lofts, a white male Verona Area High School student, is the second in two weeks to gain more than 500 signatures in support for change in the district. The other, started Sunday, June 30, urges the school board to end its contract with the City of Verona Police Department for the police-school liaison officer for the upcoming school year.
As of mid-afternoon on Monday, July 6, 658 people had signed the petition Lofts started on Wednesday, June 24.
In the narrative of Lofts’ petition, he writes that students’ ignorance of Black and other ethnic histories is not their fault, but the district’s. In an email to district staff and the school board that was forwarded to the Press and expanded on the petition’s narrative, Lofts writes that Black history should be a required part of VASD’s K-12 curriculum.
Board president Noah Roberts wrote in an email to the Press that it is critical that the district reviews and revises its curriculum on an ongoing basis to reflect diverse voices and cultures.
“It is my expectation that our district will conduct a thorough, thoughtful, and inclusive process to review and revise our curriculum that is centered around student and staff voices,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do in this realm, but we are committed to pressing forward, listening, and making necessary changes.”
Assistant superintendent of academic services Laurie Burgos told the school board during its July 6 meeting that the district had started to look at overhauling the curriculum in February, but had to be paused when COVID-19 restrictions required district attention elsewhere.
Burgos added that she has heard from students, especially those in the Minority Student Achievement Network, that they would like to see more of themselves represented in the curriculum.
“We’ve been having conversations about this as a Pre-K through 12 context, because this is not something that just applies to our high school,” she said. “A good curriculum review process involves stakeholders around the table to begin with, including students.”
That history should go back to learning about tribes in Africa and the world slave trade, Lofts added, and should discuss the practice of redlining, which limited Black people’s access to purchasing homes, and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts.
“It was not until this past month that I learned of Juneteenth. It is not until this past month that I learned of the Tulsa Massacre, nor did I even know that a Black Wall Street ever existed,” Lofts wrote in his email to district staff, and echoed in the petition narrative. “I can tell you who MLK and Rosa Parks are, but which other esteemed black people could I name? The list is dishearteningly small.”
In the email to staff, Lofts also demanded district’s K-12 students receive a more in-depth teaching of Native American history, as well as education on the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment camps that held over 100,000 Americans with Japanese heritage in the mid-1940s as a reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Broadening the topics talked about in history and looking at diverse perspectives in a holistic way is a vital step the district must take to address systemic racism, Lofts writes in both the email and the petition narrative.