Story at a glance
- Parents across the country are pushing back against social-emotional learning, arguing it focuses on depression and suicide, issues they don’t believe affect young students.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted a 57.4 percent increase in youth suicides in 2018, compared to 2007 levels.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported 13.1 million people aged 6 to 17 years old experienced serious mental illness in 2019.
Parents around the country are advocating against mental health and suicide prevention programs, arguing they don’t want school districts focusing on social-emotional learning.
Social-emotional learning focuses on teaching students skills such as problem solving, self-regulation, impulse control and empathy. It’s been shown to improve academics, reduce bullying and create positive classroom environments.
However, social-emotional learning has become a contentious issue, with many parents believing that it focuses on teaching kids about mental health topics like depression and suicide.
One mother with children in Texas’ Carroll Independent School District (ISD) said during a school board meeting that, “At Carroll ISD you are actually advertising suicide.” The mother went on to argue that school counselors are paid too much, citing a $90,000 salary, and that districts should instead prioritize funds to better prepare students for college.
According to NBC News, two days after that school board meeting, South Lake Families PAC, an education advocacy group, sent its members an email blast encouraging supporters to call the school district to, “leave mental health and parenting to parents.”
In Indiana, when Carmel Clay School Board (CCS) hired the district’s first mental health coordinator, some parent groups published threatening posts that disparaged her and demanded her resignation, according to local media.
The disruptive behavior of parents at that district prompted the CCS board to hold future board meetings virtually until further notice.
Some states have gotten involved too, with members of Wisconsin’s legislature attempting to propose a bill that would prevent public schools from, “promoting psychological distress in students,” based on class material that addressed racism and sexism.
But the data on mental health of adolescents paints a different picture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nationally, the suicide rate among individuals who were 10 to 24 years old increased 57.4 percent from 2007 to 2018. That rise was significant in 42 states.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also found that 16.5 percent of U.S. youth aged 6 to 17 experienced serious mental illness in 2019, which is about 13.1 million people. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34.
Karen Niemi, president of Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, told NBC that, “I am concerned, because the people that stand to lose are the kids. And it does worry me that we could risk prioritizing what’s good for kids because of a misunderstanding or, potentially, social emotional learning being used for any political agenda.”
Despite the pushback, social-emotional learning is staying in some classrooms. The Utah state legislature passed a youth suicide prevention bill that will mandate youth suicide prevention programs in elementary and high schools, even after one parent group advocated against the legislation by saying, “it introduces suicide programs to elementary schools, where suicides are not happening.”
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