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Connecticut among first in nation to require AAPI studies in public schools with state funding

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Under a bill passed by the state legislature, Connecticut will become the first state in the nation to require Asian American and Pacific Islander studies in K-12 public schools, offered through state funding.

“This is a really important curriculum to move forward with,” said state Rep. Bobby Sanchez (D-New Britain). “Connecticut is really understanding the need for our kids to know who has contributed to this country. And we know Asian Americans have contributed a significant amount to this country.”

Sanchez, who is also chairman of the Education Committee, said with the continuing rise of anti-Asian violence, the timing for the bill’s passage couldn’t be more significant.

“It’s been horrible and upsetting seeing what’s happening in this country ever since COVID hit,” he said. “It also just shows that it all comes back to education. We need to know the good and the bad, and learn from our mistakes.”

The bill, which was passed in May during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, will require AAPI studies to be implemented into the state curriculum by the 2025-26 school year. The bill will also provide about $150,000 in state funding for a curriculum specialist and other staff with the state Department of Education. Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign the bill into law.

Based on the bill, school districts will be required to teach a range of topics, including AAPI’s involvement and contributions toward history, civil rights and the arts – both as individuals and as communities to the economic, social and political development of the United States.

The AAPI-specific K-12 mandate will fill an enormous gap by having an accurate and broad-based curriculum, versus having students taking just one class, said Jason Chang, associate professor of History and Asian American Studies at UConn.

“We already started the work of building a learning community of practice on what that curriculum will look like,” he said. The community includes teachers, school department heads, principals, district-level supervisors, future teachers, and students. “The different perspectives will help inform the process.”

Chang, who is also on the governor’s hate crimes advisory council, said this bill is a long time coming. He said bigotry cases against the AAPI community had been around long before the pandemic.

“The bill is a recognition for the need for this kind of change, and an opportunity to activate the communities that folks have gotten used to ignoring and overlooking,” he said.

This is a moment when Mike Keo, a son of Cambodian refugees, said his family finally feels seen.

“As a parent to two young children, one in kindergarten and one in pre-K, it makes me feel like I can trust that they will see themselves reflected in the classroom and others will see them,” said Keo, who is also a parent advocate with Make Us Visible CT, a statewide group of educators and advocates.

Keo helped found Make Us Visible CT in January 2021. The organization helped to get legislation passed in 2021 to include AAPI history in a K-8 model curriculum with $360,000 in funding. Make Us Visible now has chapters in Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

“Many Asian Americans have lived in fear their entire lives,” said Keo. “This will bring out the joy and make the joy more apparent to everyone, especially our students. If I knew what I know now, I think I would have appreciated my parents more.”