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Utah school district reviews use of 'Social-Emotional Learning' curriculum

Posted at 11:09 PM, Oct 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 01:16:03-04

SANDY, Utah — A heated debate on a certain school curriculum is taking place in the Canyons School District.

In September, the district paused its use of the Second Step Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program in elementary and middle schools after several parents raised concerns.

A notice to parents reads: "the Second Step curriculum, although supported by many, has links to information that may not meet the community’s expectations and needs."

“Our children matter, and what they are being taught in school matters,” said Lisa Logan, a parent of two children in the Canyons School District. “Lesson by lesson, slide by slide — we looked at the teacher handout and lesson plan and we looked at the student handout.”

Logan and another parent studied the Second Step Social-Emotional Learning curriculum for 8th-grade students.

They composed a 25-page document detailing what they perceive as issues with the material.

“When it's done through a political or ideological lens, it is not healthy for our children,” Logan said.

According to the Second Step website, the program aims to teach students how to gain confidence, set goals, make better decisions, collaborate with others and navigate the world more effectively.

But Logan and other parents believe the content contains underlying themes about race that are divisive and provides students with information about relationships and sex that is inappropriate for middle schools.

“It goes beyond pushing kids to be kind to people who are different from them and to accept these ideologies and to be social justice activists for them,” she said.

After the district decided to pause the program, the issue was placed on the agenda for Tuesday night’s board meeting.

Superintendent Rick Robins proposed a plan for the district to develop its own social-emotional learning curriculum.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, parents and educators on both sides of the issue offered their opinions to the board.

“I have not signed up for group therapy for issues my children most likely do not even have,” said one parent who was against the current Social-Emotional Learning content.

But several others expressed anger with the district for pausing the curriculum and spoke of the program’s benefits.

“We need to teach problem-solving,” said one parent who supports SEL. “We need to teach empathy. We need to do that in combination with the family and the home.”

A woman who described herself as a school counselor tried to hold back tears as she said, “I am very dedicated to supporting the social and emotional needs of our students as well as creating more equitable systems in our schools.”

The curriculum described in the superintendent’s presentation on an alternative to Second Step offered examples of lessons dealing with empathy, values and self-esteem.

Public comment lasted for more than an hour, and the board debated the subject for about an hour and a half.

After the long debate, the board decided to delay a vote on the issue until its next meeting on October 19.