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The Warren County School Board, at its regular meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 2, approved the restart of the Second Stage Social-Emotional Learning Program for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) and gave a unanimous yes. accepting a grant to pay for Wi-Fi at school. the buses.

The Second Step program – which is sold by a non-profit organization that owns the brand – raised concerns last month from two school board members who cited full access restrictions and some questionable content as reasons to temporarily halt the program to allow for further investigation. The Board of Directors, at its regular meeting on January 5, unanimously agreed to do so.

WCPS buys Second Step from the nonprofit Committee for Children, which owns the program’s trademark. The organization says Second Step programs are research-based, teacher-informed and classroom-tested to promote the social-emotional development, safety and well-being of children from early learning through 8th grade. . The program is not used at the elementary level. grade level in WCPS, and parents can remove their children from all orientation lessons.

Following the January 19 school board business session where WCPS staff explained the benefits and use of Second Step in WCPS, the majority of the board voted 4 to 1 last night to reinstate Second Step. Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi and members Antoinette Funk and Andrea Lo were present at the meeting and voted “yes”. Board member Melanie Salins voted against continuing the Second Step program.

Lo pointed out that Second Step’s social-emotional learning (SEL) program helps provide students with relevant skills needed in the job market, such as communication skills and teamwork, among others, and she thinks the council would be “doing them a disservice” by not offering the program.

Funk said WCPS has done a solid job informing parents about the content of the SEL program and she urged parents “to be actively involved in their child’s education” by contacting teachers, counselors and principals if they have questions about the program or want to view its content.

Pence called Second Step a “great program”.

Public comments

Many residents spoke in favor of continuing the SEL program at WCPS during Wednesday’s public hearing section of the council meeting. A few people also wrote letters of support which were read on the public record.

“It saddens me that at a time when our children are already facing so many challenges and struggles, we need to advocate for a curriculum that helps provide students with coping strategies, helps solidify school principles of kindness and responsibility, builds problem-solving skills, empowers children to advocate for themselves and their peers, gives them the confidence to resist bullying, and helps them learn coping strategies for everything from loss of a loved one to promoting a growth mindset in which they are not limited in what they can accomplish,” wrote Kate DeBord-Peter, who lives in the Fork District and has two children who attend WCPS.

“Children need these services now more than ever,” DeBord-Peter wrote.

She also voiced concerns expressed by many who attended the in-person board meeting about the school board allowing a few people to manipulate them into doing something controversial that isn’t, and several asked Board members to keep politics out of future meetings.

For example, Second Step supporter Ingrid Chenoweth, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church clergyman and WCPS Blue Ridge Technical Center teacher, and North River District resident Angie Robinson were two of many speakers who spoke out against the political nuances of recent school board meetings.

Instead, they said, the school board should support the professionalism and expertise of WCPS teachers, counselors and administrators, who can be trusted to choose the most appropriate, relevant program. and the most beneficial for the students.

The Reverend Christine McMillin-Goodwin of Front Royal, who is a pastor at First Baptist Church, also pointed out that when school board members fight and teachers feel unsupported due to increased political bargaining, the situation “is not good for our students. .”

Although no one said his name aloud during the meeting, speakers were likely referring to the perceived politics they heard in comments from council vice chairman Rinaldi and council member Melanie Salins.

Rinaldi, for example, said at the Jan. 5 school board meeting that when he watched a video of Second Step, he wondered “is it possible that some teachers can intertwine the idea of ​​critical theories of the race?” On Wednesday, Rinaldi said he saw a few things in his review of the program “that could be taken the wrong way,” but he said he trusted WCPS guidance counselors and teachers to use “common sense. teachers”.

Salins — the only Wednesday night “no” vote against Second Step’s lawsuit in WCPS — said Warren County residents still don’t have full access to the 2020-2021 digital version of Second Step. She said a parent login to the Second Step website only allows someone to see half of what is available to WCPS staff and school board members.

“The issue here isn’t the lessons,” Salins said of Second Step. “The question that arises here is that of true informed consent. And parents can’t consent to what they don’t have full access to. Parents just want a username and password, but WCPS “still refuses to give them access to the program so they can read it and know what their children are going to learn,” she added.

WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and fellow board member Funk told Salins that Second Step is owned by a non-profit organization that does not allow full access to branded material and that WCPS is bound by its legal purchase agreement to adhere to these Trademark Rules. And while WCPS and school board members have access, if anyone else has questions or would like to see additional lessons or other materials, they can contact their child’s school for information at this subject.

Ballenger also said that parents and community members were able to access the educational resources used in each school and that schools that had digital access to additional materials also provided a parental access code to families and school members. the community to review the material at home. Parents have also been provided with opt-out forms at each site and can request an opt-out form from their child’s principals if they choose not to have their child participate in any of the additional programs offered at their child’s school. .

Although Salins said the issue wasn’t about Second Step lessons, she said, “I take Second Step’s bullying curriculum seriously,” which she says portrays bullies as being privileged on the basis of their economic status, race and gender. Salins said such a perspective differs from what she learned growing up and what she teaches her own children.

Also on Wednesday, Salins commented on “the beauty of parental choice,” a political platform she called “a hot topic of our time.”

“Parents feel kicked out and are literally shut out of their schools right now,” Salins said.

Some speakers in attendance called on members of the Warren County School Board to give residents more time to review the Second Step SEL program.

For example, Tom McFadden, Sr., of Front Royal, said he and other members of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church formed a study group to review the program, but then learned that the Public access was not possible after speaking to Ballenger. The group would like even more time to review the program if that changes, he said.

In total, more than a dozen speakers took part in the public hearing, which lasted approximately half an hour.

Buses with Wi-Fi

Among other actions taken Wednesday evening, the council voted unanimously to allow WCPS to accept a $140,476 grant from the Emergency Connectivity Fund to purchase equipment to install Wi-Fi on buses. divisional schools.

With the grant funds, WCPS will purchase mobile Wi-Fi equipment from SHI International Corp. which will be installed on all school buses by the WCPS Department of Transportation, according to WCPS Chief Technology Officer Tim Grant.

Watch the Warren County School Board February 2 meeting in its entirety.

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