For many Americans, the death of George Floyd in May of 2020 was a wake-up call. Some people saw for the first time how differently some police officers treat people of color. For many, this incident felt like the last straw, and they felt that they had to take action. Some people turned their social media pages black to show solidarity. Others gathered and marched in the streets in different locations around the country. For many public and private colleges and high schools, including the Frederick Gunn School, this event also caused a period of reflection and examination of curriculums.
Guilford, Connecticut, became representative of the types of disagreements that happened around the country when the issue of race took center stage at Board of Education meetings. Guilford is a largely white, mostly middle to upper middle-class community that, before the death of George Floyd, had decided to replace the old mascot, the “Guilford Indian”, with the Guilford Grizzly. This decision was expected, as the community had been considering this change for many years, so there was not much backlash. However, with the new nationwide conversations about race, the district began a systematic look at its own teaching of race and racial history. The Guilford schools began to assign readings that caused more uncomfortable conversations in classes. The superintendent spoke out about the importance of teaching “hard history” and looking more deeply at some of the most painful parts of American history, particularly around slavery.
Some students and their parents began to feel uncomfortable and objected, saying that white kids were being made to feel uncomfortable about being white and that the new effort was taking away from the teaching of traditional subjects. Some people disagreed with specific books that had been assigned. Some were upset about a book that was purchased for teachers to read. Some linked the new approach to a graduate school-level theory called Critical Race Theory (CRT) that the district denied it was teaching. Out of this opposition came five Republican candidates running for open seats on the Board of Education who pledged to walk back some of the curriculum changes of the last year. They beat moderate Republicans who had been serving on the Board of Education in a caucus and primary and then got onto the ballot for the November election.
What happened next was a long summer and early fall with more anger and division than anyone in town could remember. There was name calling. Neighbors’ political signs faced off along roadways. The fight was so unexpected in this normally peaceful community that national media outlets began to cover the race. There were news trucks on the historic Guilford Green and campaign representatives were interviewed disparaging each other. On November 2nd, the five Republican newcomers lost by a 2-1 margin to a combined slate of Democrats and Independents who supported the efforts of the Board of Education. But this fight is not over. In the November 3rd edition of the local Guilford Courier, one of the defeated candidates was quoted as saying, “Nationally this issue is not going away and if it doesn’t go away nationally then it won’t go away as a town…There is a war that is being waged against us. While we may have lost this battle, but this war is not over.”