Editorial: SEL screening should be applauded, not feared

Posted 2/15/23

Instead of fearing or being suspicious of a new screening procedure for social-emotional learning, parents would be better serving their children by encouraging their participation in a tool which may benefit their mental health, and overall wellbeing.

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Editorial: SEL screening should be applauded, not feared


Last week, this paper ran a story on the implementation of a new social-emotional learning (SEL) screening program that is undergoing its pilot year in Bristol Warren schools, and covered a small but significant pushback on that program that was amplified by Tara Thibaudeau, the school committee’s secretary, who said the screening violated basic tenets of parental choice by forcing students to participate.

On Monday, another school committee member — Jessica Almeida, who is the board’s treasurer — called to implement an official policy on the screening procedures to better inform parents about what questions will be asked of their kids, and provide them the option to opt out of the screening if they wish. She argued that should have been advertised as an option — an option which is supported by local and federal laws.

Both Thibaudeau and Almeida are intending to do right by constituents who felt blindsided by the new screening tool, and had questions regarding its merits, administration, and about what happens to the screening data collected on their kids.

While there is nothing wrong with advocating for additional transparency and formalized protocol for the screenings taking place in schools — indeed, it seems clear the district could have been more thoughtful in how it rolled out the program — the negative attention has potentially overshadowed the positive benefits that such a screening program would have on students in Bristol Warren.

This week we also featured a story that examines statewide crime data and reveals that, while most crime has stayed flat or gone down, crime rates among adolescents and teenagers is trending upwards in multiple East Bay communities. Experts who seek to assist and understand the needs and complex problems experienced by adolescents and teens have concurred that in the post-Covid world, kids are under stressors never seen before, and that it is an issue worth keeping an eye on.

This is exactly what SEL screening intends to do. By giving students a different outlet and opportunity to express themselves through such a screening tool, the district may open up avenues for children to better understand their own emotional wellbeing and lead to better outcomes academically, socially, and emotionally.

To a degree, it is understandable for any parent to question what is going on at your child’s school. However, in this instance, parents would be serving their children well by encouraging their participation in a tool which may benefit their mental health, and overall wellbeing, in the long run.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.