Earlier this year, the School District of Palm Beach County in Florida quietly stopped using the phrase “social-emotional learning,” or SEL.
The educational model – which teaches skills such as self-awareness, empathy and resilience – has over the past couple of years become linked to critical race theory by conservatives who accuse schools of “woke indoctrination.”
Palm Beach County schools, according to a document submitted to the state in February and obtained by USA TODAY, now call that model “skills for learning and life.” Recently updated resources reflect the change in verbiage, as does the district’s website.
This pivot away from the phrase SEL may seem superficial, inevitable rebranding given the culture wars over how and what schools teach kids about race and identity. But the district has made other changes too. It recently pulled out of a national research partnership focused on SEL in schools, for example, and reduced its emphasis on certain resources.
Educators say similar rollbacks are happening across Florida, a trend reflected in a collection of records from some of the state’s largest districts at a time when students’ social and emotional well-being is especially fragile. And while news of Florida’s library restrictions and rejected textbooks have made national headlines, some ofthese other shifts aren’t always so obvious.
As states ranging from Iowa to Montana consider legislation targeting SEL, the sometimes-subtle changes happening in Florida show the chilling effect state inquiries can have on work to support students’ mental health and make schools more welcoming places.
It’s “a tremendous blow to young people,” said Christiane Gunn, a veteran social studies teacher in Broward County, Florida. “Kids come to school with a lot of baggage. Right now, there’s not enough available that’s going to help them and it really scares me – what’s going to happen to the social-emotional wellness of some of these children” if these programs are cut? …