The guest commentary, “Don’t let social workers in Blue Valley schools pry into private concerns of minor students, families,” in the 913 section Oct. 4 sounded the alarm that 19 new social workers in the Blue Valley School District would “pry into” the lives of students and warned parents to scrutinize Social and Emotional Learning standards.
That paints a startling picture, so it’s important to look closer.
We have heard recent stories of lives cut short by suicide in the Kansas City metro area, including the Blue Valley community. These preventable deaths have affected our faith-based organizations, schools and families.
The American Association of Suicidology reports that nearly 90 percent of people who die from suicide have diagnosable mental disorders, yet only 30 percent received mental health services in the year before their deaths. We applaud the Blue Valley School District for increasing social worker support as one significant step to address student mental health and wellness issues.
Social workers are not in our Blue Valley schools to collect data on students, and they must obtain parental permission before working with students. The addition of this new resource means children and families have a better support network at school. There is no nefarious plot behind the addition of these social workers, and it’s interesting that anyone would frame it as such.
The author of last week’s piece then leaps from social workers to Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL. SEL is a term encompassing the non-academic skill set needed to navigate college and career.
“What we know Kansans are telling us is that, yes, students have to have good academic skills, but they also have to be able to apply those skills,” Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson told The Star in 2015. He said business leaders were seeking workers with non-academic skills even above academic achievements.
The Kansas Social, Emotional and Character Development Standards, found on the Kansas State Department of Education website, describes the ideal model for its students: “They strive for excellence by committing to hard work, persistence and internal motivation. They assume responsibility for their thoughts and actions. They demonstrate character in their actions by treating others as they wish to be treated and giving their best effort.”
As a parent, I have expected our schools to help develop these skills, as we did at home. Our schools have emphasized the Blue Valley Virtues for many years.
So, why is the director of Concerned Women for America of Kansas warning Blue Valley parents about the dangers of social workers and Social and Emotional Learning?
It’s an unfortunate reality that extremist anti-public education groups have set their sights on successful Johnson County school districts, including Blue Valley. Anti-public education rhetoric doesn’t go far here, but it’s important to address false narratives as they arise.
Blue Valley schools are among the best in the nation by almost any measure. Extremists must look hard to find things to complain about. Either that, or they create false claims. Our community has seen both over the past few years, motivating parents to organize and fight back.
Facts matter, and never more so than when our kids’ education hangs in the balance. The next time you hear, or read, information that criticizes our award-winning public schools, please consider the source.
If the information comes from extreme organizations that target public education as part of their agenda, use a very discerning eye to ask: What does this group have to gain from spreading misinformation or concocting scary questions about what’s going on in our schools? The greatest concern for all of us lies in that answer.
Patty Logan is chairman of Stand Up Blue Valley: Families for Our Schools. She is an emergency doctor at Providence Medical Center and St. John Hospital.