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Hundreds of Asians Turn Out To Support Bill That Would Prohibit Disaggregation of Some Ethnic Data In Schools

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Hundreds of Asians Turn Out To Support Bill That Would Prohibit Disaggregation of Some Ethnic Data In Schools

By Kathleen Megan

About a thousand Asian Americans, most of Chinese heritage, converged on the Legislative Office Building Thursday to support a bill that would ban the separation of data about Connecticut’s students into ethnic subgroups in the public school system unless required by federal law.

“You can tell we are very emotional about this issue,” Lin Yang, a Woodbridge mother of two teenagers, told legislators at an Education Committee hearing.

She said “granular disaggregation” — breaking up data on Asians to reflect the particular countries from which they come — would be divisive, intrusive and alienating for students.

“It would send a very dangerous signal to our next generation,” Yang, an immigrant from China, said later. It would run counter to idea of America as a place where people of different cultures are united as one.

Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, one of the legislators proposing the bill, said he would be concerned about any “registry that singles out a specific racial group. … Any concerns people have raised about it is a reflection of history and distrust in how data and registries would be used to their disadvantage.”

The idea of separating out the student data for ethic subgroups has been passed in other states, largely backed by Southeast Asian communities.

Hwang said he was shocked at the huge turnout of Asian Americans for Thursday’s hearing, many carrying tiny U.S. flags and wearing flag-themed scarves, filling the main hearing room and spilling over into two overflow rooms.

“It’s really a community rising up to ensure that their voices were heard,” Hwang said. “It’s a powerful testimony.”

That distrust of registries and concerns about discrimination dates back to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and continues through recent concerns that students of Asian descent have been the subject of discrimination by elite institutions, such as Harvard, as they attempt to create a diverse student body.

Yuebiao Feng and daughter Jessica, 8, came to the legislative hearing Thursday.

Yuebiao Feng and his daughter, Jessica, 8, of East Lyme, came to the legislative hearing Thursday. Feng is an immigrant from China and his daughter was born in the U.S. (Kathleen Megan/Courant)

Connecticut now disaggregates only the education data required by federal law — related to minority and low-income children. That does not require the state to get down to the granular level of which country a particular child came from.

There is no proposal now to disaggregate data involving Asian students, but Yang and the hundreds of others at the hearing say they are alarmed about bills that have passed in other states, such as California, Minnesota and Rhode Island, calling for the disaggregation of data related to Asians.

The proponents of the Connecticut bill see it as a way to preempt any disaggregation proposals in the state. The bill says that data related to students shall not be disaggregated by ethnic subgroups unless that data is required by federal law or is collected uniformly for all ethnic subgroups among the entire student population in the state.

“It has been a non-issue in Connecticut,” said Education Committee co-chairman, Andy Fleischmann D-West Hartford, “but advocates requested that we consider legislation because they wanted to preempt this sort of action that they’ve seen in other states.”

Fleischmann said that, as he understands it, a disaggregation bill related to Asians was passed in Rhode Island after Southeast Asian communities specifically requested it .

“There were groups that felt that, without disaggregation, certain achievement gaps for which the Southeast Asian community feels it’s on the downside of were being overlooked,” Fleischmann said.“It was trumpeted as a victory by the advocates in Rhode Island, but it raised concern among many in Connecticut.”

A much smaller group of Southeast Asians spoke against the Connecticut bill Thursday, saying that only by disaggregating data can traumatized refugees from that region be identified and get the help they need.

Theanvy Kuoch, executive director of Khmer Health Advocates in West Hartford, said that, as early as 1990, they knew traumatized Cambodians were suffering from diabetes and dying of strokes at rates that were much higher than in other communities, but it took 22 years to get the data to prove it.

“The myth of Asians being the ‘model minority’ does great harm to our Southeast Asian American communities,” Kuoch said. “It is a discrimination that is wrapped in a golden cloth. It tricks many people, including our own communities into believing that we have no problems. But we know that we do have problems and those problems come not from our culture but from our trauma.”

Quyen Truong, a first-generation Vietnamese refugee living in Hartford, said she understands the concerns that disaggregated data about Asian Americans could lead to more splits within the community.

But, she said, “There is a big difference between collecting data to discriminate, which is unconstitutional, and the public policy aims of disaggregating data to understand how to empower all students to succeed.”

Truong, who works in health care reform advocacy, said the data is needed to ensure that state dollars go to address educational and health care disparities, such as achievement gaps in education.

But Yang said there are other ways to get that data than through schoolchildren and education data.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton asked two students testifying on the bill what would scare them about disaggregating data for Asians on a country-by-country level.

“Wer’re going to be like an alien,” said David Zhang, a seventh-grader from Cheshire. “We’re going to be different from everyone.”

Kevin Lu, a ninth-grader and Yang’s son, explained, “I am an American before I am Asian. I am Asian before I am Chinese and I am Chinese before I am Mandarin.”

(3/09/2018 @咖啡])


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