Following an advisory from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on youth mental health, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) encouraged educators to expand social-emotional learning (SEL) implementation. SEL encompasses a wide swath of subjects, including the controversial Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) and Critical Race Theory (CRT), to educate children on handling emotionally-charged issues while building social and self-awareness. SEL often centers around identity, emotions, attitudes, and beliefs.
ADE suggested their free online SEL Course as a means of fulfilling Murthy’s suggestion for educators to create a positive, safe, and affirming school environment. Their course focuses on equity, cultural responsiveness, and trauma sensitive practices. ADE also suggested the PAX Good Behavior Game, only granting free access to teachers and schools.
Citing Murthy, ADE insinuated that the mental health decline in youth would become the next crisis after the pandemic if left unchecked. ADE also asserted that schools are ideal partners for parents in addressing youth social and emotional wellness.
“Educators and school professionals are uniquely positioned to partner with families to best support student social, emotional, and academic wellbeing in our classrooms and schools,” stated the department. “[ADE] encourages school communities to read the latest Surgeon General Advisory to understand the position of young people better and implement the recommendations offered in the advisory.”
Although Murthy’s advisory pressed the importance of reversing the decline in youth mental health, he did also admit that the government lacked knowledge on the long-term impact of the pandemic on children’s mental wellness. In fact, Murthy further admitted that some youths actually “thrived” during the pandemic, reporting increased sleep and family quality time, less academic stress and bullying, and improved schedule flexibility and coping skills.
“Many young people are resilient, able to bounce back from difficult experiences such as stress, adversity, and trauma,” wrote Murthy. “Although the pandemic’s long-term impact on children and young people is not fully understood, there is some cause for optimism. According to more than 50 years of research, increase in distress symptoms are common during disasters, but most people cope well and do not go on to develop mental health disorders. Several measures of distress that increased early in the pandemic appear to have returned to pre-pandemic levels by mid-2020. Some other measures of wellbeing, such as rates of life satisfaction and loneliness, remained largely unchanged throughout the first year of the pandemic. And while data on youth suicide rates are limited, early evidence does not show significant increases.”
SEL hasn’t been the only controversial educational approach supported by ADE. Earlier this year, ADE advertised $5,000 teacher grants through the Pulitzer Center for those who would implement the 1619 Project. Simultaneously, the latest ADE statewide assessment results revealed that students are failing in English and math.
Although controversial among local parents and community members, SEL doesn’t appear to cause issues at the state level.
Governor Doug Ducey supported SEL expansion recently. In August, Ducey announced that a portion of the $65 million for learning programs would go to SEL. The controversial method received $1.6 million out of $20.1 million American Rescue Plan dollars.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobb nominated a Phoenix elementary school teacher for a national youth leadership award for her classroom activism rooted in and related to SEL.
In March, the Arizona Department of Education’s (ADE) Social Studies newsletter advertised grant funds for teachers who would implement the 1619 Project. The Pulitzer Center offered a $5,000 grant to 40 educators; applications were due in March. The 1619 Project is an exercise of critical race theory, which holds that race is a socially-constructed idea created by white people to exploit and suppress anyone who isn’t white, and that all social, political, and economic institutions in this country were created by and operate on racism.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper series was debunked by historians roundly and subsequently edited significantly without any editor’s notes from its publisher, The New York Times. The initial goal of the project was to “reframe the country’s history” by establishing the year 1619 as the United States’s “true founding,” while focusing “the consequences of slavery and contributions of black Americans” as the lens through which to view past and present American society.
Parent and co-founder of West Valley Parents Uniting, Heather Rooks, resurfaced ADE’s newsletter promoting 1619 Project grant funds.
“Social Studies Newsletter back from January 2021, Arizona Department of Education to the Peoria Unified School District,” wrote Rooks. “Pulitzer Center offering grants to teachers to help implement the 1619 project ? So @azedschools is clearly using incentives to push CRT is AZ schools!”
Social Studies Newsletter back from January 2021, Arizona Department of Education to the Peoria Unified School District….Pulitzer Center offering grants to teachers to help implement the 1619 project ? So @azedschools is clearly using incentives to push CRT is AZ schools! pic.twitter.com/7195dTl7lK
In February, ADE’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion also suggested that the 1619 Project podcast was an appropriate educator resource for Black History Month.
In a statement to AZ Free News, Rooks questioned how ADE could be trusted with educating Arizona’s students if they promoted such unacademic materials. She urged parents to up their vigilance.
The Arizona Department of Education sends out newsletters to school districts across the valley. You would think the Department would have resources to help students with loss of learning. But instead, there’s a newsletter from January 2021 showing a promotion from Pulitzer Center giving out grant money to teachers who implement the 1619 project in their classrooms. I am a parent who wants the best education not only for my children, but for all children in Peoria Unified School District. Finding this newsletter through public records in emails of the curriculum team with the Peoria Unified School District was incredibly sad and shocking to say the least. If we can’t trust The Arizona Department of Education, how do we trust the Districts? Parents need to be aware of these newsletters coming to school districts from the Arizona Department of Education. Offering incentives to push Critical Race Theory into schools is completely wrong. West Valley Parents Uniting stands for transparency for parents and academics for students. Apparently the Arizona Department of Education doesn’t stand for Truth.
Another data breach in two years has Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) holders wondering if their information is secure with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). This past week, it was discovered that the state’s contracted payment platform for ESA funds, ClassWallet, had allowed users to search for other ESA account holders and view their names and email addresses.
In a letter sent to ESA holders, ESA Program Director of Communications and Engagement Sarah Raybon explained that they became aware of the data breach last Friday. Raybon assured ESA holders that ClassWallet would resolve that feature over the weekend.
“Today, our team became aware of an issue in ClassWallet portal’s search feature that allowed account holders to view the names and email addresses of other account holders,” wrote Raybon. “Upon discovery, we immediately contacted the Treasurer’s Office (who holds the ClassWallet contract) and we spoke to ClassWallet directly. We have been advised that ClassWallet engineers will be working over the weekend to get this fixed.”
During the Arizona State Board of Education’s meeting last week, parents questioned why a violation of federal law was happening again. They pleaded with the members to remedy these issues sooner rather than later. One ESA parent, Kelly Pichitino, admonished ADE for not cleaning up their act and ensuring any contract holders follow federal law after last year’s data breach.
“I would like to know why, for a second time, my child’s name is available for a stranger to view along with my personal information?” asked Pichitino. “[I] would think that the department would invest a little more thought and care, time and accountability into their actions.”
Further public commentary at the meeting also focused on other issues with the ESA system, such as inappropriate or incompetent staff behavior, apparently arbitrary denial of funds for educational needs, little to no communication and transparency, and relentless rule or policy changes.
These issues were also detailed in written comments, which are available here.
This isn’t the first time that ADE has compromised ESA members’ information unintentionally. As Arizona Capitol Times discovered and reported last January, the ADE failed to properly redact the personally-identifying information of all ESA account holders when fulfilling a public records request to three requestors, one of which was a group that actively campaigns against ESAs: Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ).
Exposed information included parents’ first and last names, email addresses, the grade of their student(s), and any disabilities if a particular student had special needs.
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) downplayed the data breach, saying that only “some” personal information was shared inadvertently.
“In the course of fulfilling a public records request to three individuals, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) inadvertently disclosed some personally identifiable information belonging to Empowerment Scholarship Account holders,” stated ADE. “ADE redacted the document subject to the public records request but failed to secure the integrity of the redaction prior to sending the data, and the document was able to be manipulated to reveal private information.”
After having already received over $1 billion in CARES ACT ESSER and ESSER II funding for Arizona’s schools, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman issued a publicly paid for press release to expressed her gratitude to Arizona’s democratic congressional delegation for the passage of the American Rescue Plan.
According to Hoffman, the Plan will provide nearly $2.6 billion dollars to Arizona for K-12 education, of which the Arizona Department of Education will allocate 90% of those funds directly to public schools.
“The latest round of federal relief and recovery dollars comes at a time of high need for Arizona’s schools and families as many prepare for a return to some degree of in-person learning. From teaching and learning to providing critical wrap around supports, over the past year, every Arizonan has seen just how essential our schools are to our communities,” said Hoffman in her press release. “I am grateful to the members of Arizona’s delegation who supported the American Rescue Plan, their advocacy and their votes are essential to our recovery as a state.”
As noted by Hoffman, schools are essential, and as a result, parents have gone in search of those essential service providers. Public school enrollment is down by approximately 38,000 students for the 2020-2021 school year compared to last year.
Despite the fact that the Arizona Department of Education released a report showing public school enrollment is declining dramatically, funding for schools is growing due to COVID by nearly the same dramatic rate.
ESSER allocations were only for Title I districts and were set by the federal government. Non title I districts did not receive a direct allocation from the federal government through the CARES act so the Department used its discretionary funds to ensure they had access to relief dollars, according to Richie Taylor with the Arizona Department of Education.
TOP 20 ESSR RECEIPIENTS
TOP 20 ESSR II RECEIPIENTS
ESSER Fund Allocation
ESSER II Allocation
Tucson Unified District
Mesa Unified District
Phoenix Union High School District
Cartwright Elementary District
Washington Elementary School District
Alhambra Elementary District
Sunnyside Unified District
Glendale Elementary District
Roosevelt Elementary District
Paradise Valley Unified District
Phoenix Elementary District
Peoria Unified School District
Glendale Union High School District
Dysart Unified District
Isaac Elementary District
Deer Valley Unified District
Chandler Unified District #80
Creighton Elementary District
Amphitheater Unified District
Today, I am pleased to announce the allocation of ESSER II dollars to our state’s public district & non-profit charter schools. Every school must have the necessary resources to support its students, staff, and families throughout the #COVID19 pandemic.
At yesterday’s teacher roundtable, educators discussed the issues regarding teacher mental health and wellbeing. They also expressed viable solutions to help overcome the addressed challenges such as providing teachers with supportive resources and better financial opportunities. pic.twitter.com/K8e9kXLJJR
While multiple studies show that students are suffering greatly from school closures including increased anxiety and even suicide, Hoffman has been nearly silent on the subject of student mental health and what programs might be developed with the millions in surplus monies not allocated to schools to improve students’ mental and intellectual well-being.