Ridgefield High School’s plan to change a mandatory world history course into an elective sparked protest from the freshman class president, who is concerned the change would negatively impact minority students.

Anshuman Suryawanshi, president of the class of 2022, told the Board of Education at its Jan. 14 meeting that removing the course — Global 1 — as a graduation requirement would “harm the educational experiences of minority students, like myself, by not giving other students the chance to learn about our cultures.”

Suryawanshi, who is also the student representative for the student culture and leadership program at the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, was the only speaker during public comments that night.

He said the course had taught him more about Indian culture and history than he learned at home.

“There have been instances where I’ve gone home to the dinner table, and surprised my parents with a deep cultural understanding of Indian history that they wouldn’t expect me to have as a second-generation Indian” in America, he said.

“Shaving down two years worth of global history into one year will dilute the quality of education across the board,” Suryawanshi added. “But more specifically, it will harm the education experiences of minority students, like myself, by not giving other students the chance to learn about our cultures. Global 1 is unique, because it is the single required course that educates students about non-Western cultures.”

Graduation requirements

Under new graduation requirements adopted by the board, high school students will have to complete two-and-a-half social studies credits to receive their diploma. The required social studies include: a full year of World History II, a full year of U.S. History, and a half-year of Government and Politics.

The change in graduation requirements was driven by new legislation from the state, which went into effect in mid-2017. The new requirements will apply to seniors who graduate in 2023 — eighth grade students this year.

Seniors who graduate before 2023 will need to have completed three-and-a-half social studies credits.

The social studies requirement for Ridgefield graduates will exceed the bare minimum — a half-year credit — called for in the new state law.

“In theory, you could go through high school and only take a one-semester class in social studies,” said RHS Principal Stacey Gross.

As for turning Global 1 into a half-year elective, board member Sharon D’Orso noted that students would now take two years of world history in middle school instead of one year.

“So students will be coming in with a stronger base in world history,” she said.

Global 1 will be an additional elective for incoming freshmen.

Suryawanshi indicated he was troubled by the trend of focusing only on European history.

“Programs like the College Board are already cutting non-Eurocentric topics from the world history class. Please do not let RHS follow in their footsteps,” he said.