Crestwood school board will consider bans on emotional education and CRT

Photo via Crestwood School District

The Board of Education of Crestwood Local Schools is set to vote tomorrow on two resolutions banning critical race theory and social and emotional learning from the school curriculum.

On March 8, the board voted 3-2 to ask the district legal counsel to draw up resolutions to put the bans in place.

The first of the two resolutions, Resolution #2022-31 Regarding Social Emotional Learning, states that the “Board does not believe the SEL standards are appropriate for the district’s tested curriculum.” 

The second, Resolution #2022-32 Rejecting the Propriety of Critical Race Theory as a component of District Curriculum, says, “the Board of Education wishes to express its rejection of Critical Race Theory as an appropriate component of district curriculum.”

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Crestwood Central Offices, 10880 John Edward Drive in Matua.

The Ohio Department of Education has incorporated social and emotional learning into its strategic plan to prepare students for life after school. SEL focuses on improving the mental health, emotional resilience and empathy of children by giving teachers training and strategies to develop social and emotional skills. SEL does not entail separate classes or testing.

The Ohio Department of Education adopted social and emotional learning standards in June 2019, which recommends that all Ohio schools adopt them in their curricula. But it is ultimately up to school boards to determine to what extent they will implement or follow these standards.

Social and emotional learning is not related to critical race theory (CRT). The state has never recommended integrating CRT into school curricula.

In a December 2021 meeting, Lori Sindell of The Impact Group in Hudson presented a strategic plan for the Crestwood district which mentioned aspects of social and emotional learning.

Board members Kristen Cavanaugh and Bonnie Lovejoy expressed concern that SEL would be implemented in the school curriculum through this strategic plan if the board approved it.

In that same meeting, Cavanaugh drew a connection between SEL and CRT.

“That’s my biggest concern with this presentation,” she said. “I did a lot of research on the framework between SEL and CRT, so I do have a large concern for that. There is a lot of dialogue that overlaps (between them).”

Superintendent David Toth said the Department of Education had never recommended CRT in its K-12 curriculum, and fellow board member Karen Schultz said, “I thought [CRT] was more of a graduate school, law school level [topic].”

There was private discussion over email between members of the board and Toth, which Cavanaugh said she participated in, on the topic of social and emotional learning.

The board discussed the issue publicly again in the March 8 meeting, after legal counsel requested that the board discuss a motion to request they draw up the resolution.

Cavanaugh asked Toth if the mental health and counseling services Crestwood school provides were social and emotional learning.

“Yes,” Toth said. “SEL is such a broad thing, of course you are helping kids with their emotions but it’s not labeled SEL. That’s the danger of making a blanket thing to say, ‘well we’re not going to do this’ because sometimes SEL is just to have kids be able to set goals for themselves. If you look at the standards, SEL is being a good citizen, or working on a team.”

Lovejoy returned to the point of some kind of connection between SEL and CRT.

“I think one of the biggest concerns that everybody keeps forgetting to talk about is the thing we hear all the time. They are worried that the social emotional learning is a backdoor for the critical race theory,” she said.

There is no mention of critical race theory in the Ohio standards, the strategic plan produced by The Impact Group or in Crestwood’s current curriculum.

Toth seemed to suggest that the ban on SEL might affect the district’s efforts to care for and strengthen students’ mental health. (Toth could not be reached for comment.)

“All I’m saying as the superintendent [is] we do a lot of great things, [our counselors] do a lot of great things, our teachers do a lot of great things,” Toth said. “I’m cautioning the board to be careful when we say ‘no SEL’ — well, what does that mean specifically?”

The language of Resolution 2022-31 does reflect this concern about limiting the ability of counselors to use SEL techniques.

It states the prohibition will not apply if it limits accommodations for a child with a disability, or restricts a counselor from “discussion of topics included in any SEL Standard of Competency in an individual or group setting.”

Resolution 2022-32 contains no such caveat, banning teaching or testing of CRT concepts as being in violation of Board Policy 2240, Section 3. It does not appear that there is currently any teaching of these concepts occurring at Crestwood Local Schools.

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Owen MacMillan is a reporter with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University, producing local news coverage in partnership with The Portager.