Indoctrination concerns prompt West Bonner administrators to scrap program

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The West Bonner School District Board of Trustees revoked its approval of the district’s English-language arts program in a 3-1 vote last week, after accusations that its social learning component -emotional (SEL) would lead to liberal indoctrination, sexual grooming and critical race theory. .

At least 23 teachers, parents, grandparents and other community members testified at the meeting. A slim majority urged the board to keep the program, which it originally approved unanimously. at a meeting on June 15. Representative Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, encouraged community members to oppose the program, but did not show up for the meeting.

Along with indoctrination concerns, some opponents have also testified against the use of Federally Granted Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER) in the program, as it would tie the district to the federal government. The program would have cost more than the allocated budget, so the board planned to use ESSER funds to make up the difference. District officials did not disclose a dollar amount.

Shipping and returning the course materials will cost West Bonner about $20,000, according to textbook manager Darin Alvaro.

When school starts on September 6, educators will have to fall back on last year’s schedule, parts of which have expired or been discontinued. Approval of a new program could take months, and Superintendent Jackie Branum said it would be nearly impossible to find documents that didn’t mention SEL.

The revoked program includes optional social-emotional activities

The indoctrination issues stemmed largely from the SEL components of the K-5 program, Wonders, and the 6-12 program, StudySync. This ELA program was approved for use after a three-month, state-sanctioned process that included forming a committee of local educators and community representatives, obtaining feedback from teachers, and l organizing an open house for community members to familiarize themselves with the program, according to Nick Ivie of the River Valley Beacon.

The SEL component was added to Wonders in 2020 after McGraw Hill collaborated with the Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization that produces the children’s television show “Sesame Street.” The addition of SEL was intended to support students‘ social problem-solving skills, task persistence, empathy, and emotional and behavioral self-regulation, according to the McGraw Hill website.

McGraw Hill’s website includes an example of the optional social and emotional learning lessons found in the Wonders curriculum.

The SEL component is optional for Wonders and StudySync and ultimately puts teachers in control of their lessons.

The social-emotional content of both programs…may be omitted at the discretion of the teacher or district…without affecting the full coverage of English language arts instruction provided within and across grades,” said Cathy McManus , vice president of marketing and communications at McGraw Hill.

This was conveyed to the West Bonner trustees by local McGraw Hill representative Craig Osborne alongside a committee of national representatives who attended virtually.

After about five minutes of deliberation, the council canceled the program – only council chairwoman Margaret Hall voting no.

The district will now form another program committee and complete the lengthy selection process again.

Superintendent Branum said it was nearly impossible to find a program that didn’t mention SEL. “With the onset of COVID and the mental health issues that have skyrocketed among our young people, including suicide, publishers are benefiting from the addition of this content.”

In the meantime, the district will fall back on the program it has used for the past eight years, but it faces obstacles. Student workbooks for the program are no longer being sold, and the district cannot access some of the materials online due to license expiration.

State representative encouraged pushback, others showed up in support

Scott encouraged community members through facebook show up at the meeting. Scott represents the Northern District of Idaho which includes Bonner County since 2014 and is unopposed for re-election in November.

In his Facebook post, Scott linked to an article by a national conservative think tank, which described SEL as the gateway to “radicalized propaganda”.

Scott did not attend last Wednesday’s board meeting. But at least 11 other people have come forward with similar arguments – mainly that SEL is an introduction to liberal indoctrination, sexual grooming and critical race theory, another political flashpoint in political circles. ‘far right. Some also expressed concerns about the district’s plan to use ESSER funds to purchase part of the program. They claimed it would create ties with the federal government – ​​which they don’t want to happen.

Others, including administrator Susan Brown, were upset that McGraw Hill representatives could not relay program effectiveness data. Osborne of McGraw Hill confirmed to the district prior to the meeting that efficacy data was not required.

Some who opposed the program suggested the district use another in its place, offering a curriculum developed by Michigan’s conservative private liberal arts school, Hillsdale College. Hillsdale’s curriculum is not on the Idaho State Department of Education’s list of approved instructional materials.

At least 12 people spoke at the meeting in support of keeping the program going, including Whitney Urmann, a West Bonner District graduate and second-grade teacher at Priest River Elementary School.

During Urmann’s public comment, she listed examples of her experiences growing up in the district. She described how her first-grade teacher held her hand as the class watched the planes crash into the World Trade Center on 9/11, and how her third-grade teacher taught her about multiplication through music.

“Everything I just described is social-emotional learning,” she said. “It’s the basis of an incredible education.”

Four other district educators and two former educators also testified in favor of maintaining the program.

District mother Melissa Kuprienko was invited to attend the meeting by both friends who were against the program and those who wanted to keep it. During her public comment, she told the board that she did not have enough knowledge to pass judgment on the program itself, but said she trusted the educators in the district to teach her children. .

Kuprienko told EdNews she is now considering removing her son from the district because he struggles to read and write, and she fears the impact of cutting the ELA program will hurt him financially. academic and emotional. Kuprienko also expressed concern that teachers are starting to leave the district.

“It’s mind-boggling and mortifying,” she said. “I am terrified.”

Sadie Ditteber

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