LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (7News) — After a heated debate on Tuesday, the Loudoun County School Board voted to recognize March 10, 2023, as Social Emotional Learning Day.
In 2019, Loudoun County Public Schools adopted Social Emotional Learning (SEL) with the goal of teaching students skills to manage their feelings, show empathy, develop healthy identities and more.
“SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals,” School Board Member Atoosa Reaser said as she read the proclamation. “Feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions. SEL competencies developed throughout our lives and are essential to successes in our schools, workplaces, homes and communities and allow individuals to contribute meaningfully to society.”
But some argue Social Emotional Learning is being used as a trojan horse to teach Critical Race Theory to students.
“We can teach all of history, but what we should not be doing is bringing American Marxism into our schools,” Loudoun County School Board Member Tiffany Polifko said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
School Board Members Polifko and Reaser clashed on the topic of Social Emotional Learning.
“Social-emotional learning is taking politics and it’s bringing it into the classroom and it’s doing it in an extremely subtle way. ‘Yes, it is Ms. Reaser,’” said Polifko.
“Point of order Chair, Ms. Polifko is attacking another board member and that is against our policy,” Reaser said. “Yes, she is, she addressed me and I’m speaking to the chair which you are not anymore.”
The exchange happened after Reaser introduced her proclamation to name March 10 SEL Day.
“We heard some public comment about people having a problem with SEL and as I’m reading this proclamation, I hear is talking about equitable opportunities,” Reaser said. “Opportunity in my opinion is not a limited resource. Giving it to someone doesn’t mean you’ve taken it away from anyone else. Opportunity exists for all of our students. And talking about building community and connections and awareness and relationships and responsible decision-making are things that all of us support. And I think it’s long past due that we speak out about public comment being used to create taboo three-letter words in LCPS. And I’m going to start by doing that right now.”
Polifko pushed back.
“Social Emotional Learning has become hijacked by companies that are making an extreme amount of money off of the product they are selling,” Polifko said. “The product that we are using right now in Loudoun County, which is called Second Step Social Emotional Learning is affiliated with Learning for Justice. The problem with Learning for Justice is that it actually states that their mission, which is formerly known as the Southern Poverty Law Center, is to be a catalyst for racial justice in the south and beyond working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people.”
“And people might say, well, ‘what’s wrong with dismantling white supremacy? We don’t want white supremacy,’” said Polifko. “But by saying that, you’re inferring that there is white supremacy, which is actually in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Which states that if you are going to refer to one race as inherently superior or inferior to another, you are breaking the law. And why would we want to do that to our students? Why would we want to buy a product and insert that product into classrooms that is affiliated with a company that is seeking to disrupt and dismantle white supremacy when that goes against the governor’s Executive Order Number one? We should not be implementing instruction in our classrooms that divide our students or that teaches them about Critical Race Theory like Second Step does when it is affiliated with Learning for Justice. It teaches about intersectionality.”
Polifko said she has met with parents who have concerns about LCPS’ SEL lessons and Polifko argued it’s a family’s choice and responsibility to guide the morality of their children.
“Do we need to have character education in our schools, according to the state of Virginia? Yes, we do,” Polifko added. “But part of the criteria for character education is that we shall not be including any religious or political indoctrination. In 2020, the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning readjusted their framework. CASEL is the governing body of all Social Emotional Learning in this country. They own it all. And do you know what their vice president said? Their vice president said that they seek to socio-politically influence youth.”
Polifko argued LCPS’ SEL lessons violate Gov. Glenn Yougnkin’s Executive Order which bans “inherently divisive concepts” in schools and asked that the Loudoun County School Board should take a “deep dive” into the use of Second Step SEL lessons and discuss the curriculum framework in the near future.
“Within Learning for Justice, which is affiliated with Second Step, which teachers are encouraged to use in their lessons, according to the lesson alignment chart in Second Step, there is an article about Black Lives Matter about police brutality that states at the very end ‘all lives do not matter and never have’,” Polifko said. “Why would we teach that to our children? That is dividing them. It is poisonous, and it is not something that we should be funding and it is not something that we should be teaching our students.”
Following the school board meeting, Reaser told 7News in a statement, “Last night, one of my colleagues grossly misrepresented the Social Emotional Learning motion I introduced and directed her comments to me personally. Let me be clear, I’ll always speak up against white supremacy even if it means being called out by name, against our rules, or “out of order.” Not only can I take it, I welcome shining a light on it, especially after listening to our students speak about black history earlier in the meeting.”