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Candidates for school board target Social and Emotional Learning

Posted at 7:48 AM, Sep 02, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Social and Emotional learning is not a new concept.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) was first introduced in the late 80s and early 90s and focuses on providing students the tools to understand and cope with emotionally difficult situations and is used in schools throughout Nebraska and Iowa.

“We know that research says when kids feel emotionally connected, their attendance is better, their academics are better and they are in less trouble,” said Justin Wagner, superintendent for Woodbine Community Schools.

In Nebraska, some school board candidates though feel SEL goes much farther than its intended purpose.

“Who doesn’t want their kids to be kind and empathetic? However, over the years we have seen it be almost like a trojan horse for CRT and basically shifting the paradigm,” said Marni Hodges, a candidate running for the State Board of Education.

The pushback against SEL comes as part of a wider push by conservatives to remove what they describe as “woke ideology” from schools.

Recently, some SEL supporters have advocated for Transformative SEL, or using SEL to promote justice-oriented civic engagement by focusing on issues of race, class and culture, which some candidates feel comes too close to teaching subjects like CRT.

“On the surface, it sounds OK. I don’t want my kid to hate a gay kid or be a racist and these kinds of things. It all gets packaged very nicely and like you said Marni, it's a trojan horse,” said Elkhorn Public School Board candidate Brett Elliot.

Conservatives also claim SEL is being used to radicalize students through in-class surveys.

A document published by the group Protect Nebraska Children outlines what they describe as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where they claim students are asked biased questions to create a culture of social justice in schools that lower academic achievement and PNC encourages parents to opt their students out of these surveys.

“No, social-emotional learning is not curriculum. Not a program, so your district does not have to tell you what is in the SEL program because it's not curriculum based,” said Papillion-Lavista school board candidate Brittany Holtmeyer.

But educators say the results of SEL programs speak for themselves.

"When kids are going through traumatic events, sometimes that is the priority that you need to get them through that event before they can focus on their math, reading, writing," said Woodbine PK-4 principal Jill Ridder.

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