After public backlash, the Missouri Board of Education has voted to roll back a proposed plan to create social-emotional learning standards. Missouri will instead offer social-emotional educational resources as an option to the state’s K-12 public schools.

Social-emotional learning is designed to teach students interpersonal skills, teamwork, empathy, and how to regulate their emotions.

A work group spent months developing the proposed plan. The whole goal is to improve student behavior in the classroom, boost student outcomes, reduce teacher stress, and increase teacher retention.

A department survey yielded 1,800 comments, showing a slim majority of respondents supported the proposed standards. Some comments in support said teaching these skills will give students the foundation to grow into healthy, well-rounded adults. Another theme said the teaching will prepare students to navigate social interactions and relationships effectively, fostering empathy, communication skills, teamwork, and conflict resolution abilities.

The proposed standards hit a nerve with some people. Some said teaching this type of learning is a way to justify diversity, equity, and inclusion education. Another opposing theme said the learning would encourage teachers to act as psychologists, but without a license. A third theme said social-emotional education is the role of the parent, not the school.

Board President Charlie Shields, of St. Joseph, said public controversy does not mean moving forward is the wrong thing to do.

“I think it’s important we do something. We do everything we do in education, but the end product results go into the workforce,” said Shields. “I hear employers all the time saying, you know, ‘We’re getting students that lacked soft skills. They don’t know how to work in teams. They don’t know how to work towards a common goal.’”

Board Vice President Carol Hallquist, of Kansas City, said some teachers are leaving the profession because of trouble handling student behaviors.

“Dissenters said, ‘This is the job of the parent.’ You bet it is,” said Hallquist. “But it’s the job of the parent to feed our children- and we’re doing this is. It’s the job of the parent to ensure that children have warm clothes to wear in the winter, but we’ve got clothing closets in our schools. It’s the parent’s job for the health of their child, but we have the school nurse that handles a lot of these situations. We’ve have kindergartners who know more swear words than….well, I do. They cannot concentrate on teaching until they have a class under control.”

Board member Peter Herschend, of Branson, said the tools are designed to address a complex problem.

“That is not altogether of our making, but it is one of our responsibility to deal with at least at the classroom level. We can’t solve what’s going on at home – that’s not our job. We’re not social engineers on the homefront,” said Herschend.

The board plans to continue working on ways to deal with student behaviors and classroom management because it says teachers are asking for help with these issues.

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