Arizona Department of Education: Social-Emotional Learning Will Solve Children’s Mental Health Decline

Arizona Department of Education: Social-Emotional Learning Will Solve Children’s Mental Health Decline

By Corinne Murdock |

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.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Governor Ducey’s $65 Million for Learning Programs Funds Social-Emotional Learning

Governor Ducey’s $65 Million for Learning Programs Funds Social-Emotional Learning

By Corinne Murdock |

Some of Governor Doug Ducey’s $65 million for learning programs announced Tuesday will fund a controversial educational method: $1.6 million for social-emotional learning (SEL). SEL grapples with emotionally-charged social issues, such as murder or the history of slavery, in order to build social and self-awareness, as well as relational skills. It serves as a vessel for fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Specifically, the $1.6 million investment comes from $20.1 million in American Rescue Plan dollars.

Ducey’s SEL funds will go to Literacy Lab’s Leading Men Fellowship, a spawn of DC Public Schools funded initially by the DC Public Education Fund (DCPEF). The fellowship only recruits male, minority high school graduates. These young men give literacy support to pre-K students for a year in a residency-style program. One of the main goals for this fellowship is “diversifying the teacher pipeline.” This fellowship has some familiar faces for Arizonans – one of DCPEF’s current board members is Everfi Co-Founder and CEO, Tom Davidson.

Everfi has come under fire by Arizonan parents due to its curriculum, which is marketed as a free extracurricular resource, and after it was discovered that Everfi was bribing teachers with $15 Amazon gift cards for referrals to other educators. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is one of Everfi’s top donors.

Everfi’s curriculum promotes diversity initiatives: in one survey, Everi asked students private questions about their home life and encouraged them to think critically about their privilege. The company also provides an “Anti-Racism Extension Guide” for teachers, which promotes a book teaching tenets of critical race theory, called “28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors,” and links to the New York Times’ 1619 Project.

Last September, Everfi committed $100 million over the next three years to expanding its curriculum on social injustice and economic disparities. Two main topics that Everfi will develop are exclusively on DEI and SEL.

Arizona is not listed as one of Leading Men Fellowship’s locations as of press time. The fellowship lists activity in the Metro DC area; Central Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; Kansas City, Missouri; Massachusetts; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Ducey classified the $65 million as program funding for K-12 literacy, adult education, and teacher professional development.

“We’re making targeted investments to connect adult students with jobs, strengthen literacy education in K-12 schools, enhance professional development for teachers, help students learn money management, expand access to high quality education, and much more,” said Ducey. “Students continue to excel in and out of the classroom as they recover from the effects of the pandemic and distance learning, and we will continue to put our resources toward helping them succeed.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Parents Must Not Drop Their Guard After Scottsdale’s Apology For Inadvertent Inclusion Of Intrusive Questions

Parents Must Not Drop Their Guard After Scottsdale’s Apology For Inadvertent Inclusion Of Intrusive Questions

By Loretta Hunnicutt |

After vigilant parents sounded the alarm about a consent form they were asked to sign electronically that would have asked their children highly personal questions, Scottsdale Unified School District leadership apologized.

The District’s leadership advised parents that they would not be asked to authorize the District to “complete an emotional health and wellness screening of my child and to collect personal information, medical history or medical information, mental health history or mental health information, and quality of home and interpersonal relationships, student biometric information, or illegal, antisocial or self-incriminating behavior critical appraisal of individuals within a close relationship and gun/ammunition ownership.

The District claims those issues were mentioned inadvertently in a portion of students’ annual verification packet:

On May 4, 2021, Scottsdale Unified School District’s (SUSD) administration recommended that the Governing Board approve the FastBridge program as a social emotional learning screener for students in Kindergarten through 12th grades. It was already being used as an academic screener for grades K through 3.

This social emotional screening program, which the Board voted to adopt, is used to evaluate students overall general behavior including but not limited to, social, academic and emotional behavior. Screening is typically completed within three minutes, with results available immediately to parents and staff. These findings enable our teachers, social worker and guidance counselor professionals to help identify students who may be in need of additional support and intervention programs and to make that support available as early as possible.

The screening tool is optional and one that parents have a choice to authorize for use with their children each school year.

Notwithstanding this, SUSD’s initial parent acknowledgment form incorrectly stated that the FastBridge screener might ask for personal information about income family matters, medical or family medical history, mental health history and other categories of private information.

To be clear, the FastBridge screener does not and has never sought this information. The waiver form that initially appeared in ParentVUE as part of the parents’ annual acknowledgment was a standard waiver form that had not yet been properly tailored to SUSD’s use. The form has since been amended to reflect the information that is actually collected. We apologize for this oversight and offer our services that SUSD does not support, endorse or collect any family personal information through FastBridge.

Leadership goes on to claim that Scottsdale parents “have stressed to us how important it is for schools to support their students social emotional learning.”

“Our sole goal in acquiring FastBridge,” wrote leadership, “is to be able to support the whole child and offer help to students sooner when we see that academic and behavioral issues in the classroom are limiting their opportunities to learn and grow.”

This “apology” raises too many questions and red flags. From the implication that a child’s social emotional well-being can be assessed in three minutes, to the claim that leadership is responding to parents’ pleas that the schools support their students’ social emotional learning, the missive misses the mark for any discerning reader.

Any educator who believes that they can assess a child in any meaningful way in three minutes is misguided at best and likely committing educational malpractice at worst.

The fact that our schools continue to cater to the fear-mongering teachers’ unions, thus strongly encouraging masks and vaccines for students K-8, clearly shows that they have put the students’ social and emotional well-being far down their list of priorities.

While the apology is appreciated by many parents, I fear that it will prompt them to drop their guard and not look carefully at the other consent forms they are asked to sign. There is also the danger that parents might assume that their children are not turning over this information in their classrooms at all when nothing could be further from the truth.

Parents need to be on guard at all times, and at all times they must assume that their children are products – the data they produce, the insights they give, the very supplies they prefer to bring to school are all of value to those who benefit – in one way or another – from the education industrial complex.