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RAYMOND, Wis. — In a decision that raised eyebrows and generated community debate, the board of Raymond School has abandoned its social-emotional learning curriculum, Second Step, to shift its focus toward “character education.”

Raymond Superintendent
Michael Garvey

Superintendent Michael Garvey directed staff to throw the entire curriculum into the garbage without having a replacement ready, which led to a void in the educational framework. This order was made at the behest of the School Board.

The original complaints at Raymond School stemmed from a video shown to seventh graders that showed harassment from various perspectives – including racial, gender, and LGBTQ harassment. Parents who objected felt harassment and anti-bullying messages should be taught without specific references to racial or LGBTQ perspectives.

One parent, who did not want to be named for fear that they would be retaliated against, said he felt the class crossed the line, calling it a transgender class. School administrators said there was no transgender class, but there was a video about gender bias.

The video showed four or five students from a middle school setting talking about the diversity in appearance in their school and the diversity between the sexes in their school, said a source familiar with the video.

“They said things like, well, when he first came to school, he dressed really nice, and people said things about him that I didn’t think were very nice,” a source familiar with the video said. “They never called them gay or lesbian. The parents put that narrative into the videos.”

The parent also took issue with their children learning meditation.

“They shut the lights off. They make them meditate by doing crab claws,” the parent said. “You’re not teaching them anything… so if they get a little bit of stress, they’re going to tell their boss someday I gotta meditate. It’s just weird.”

A fresh start in Raymond

Responding to the community complaints, the Raymond School Board opted to part ways with Second Step, which provided the social-emotional learning curriculum.

Superintendent Michael Garvey said he initially supported keeping Second Step and removing objectionable material from the curriculum, as was done in West Bend. He later changed his mind and began to see a new program as a fresh start, he said at a Curriculum Committee meeting held on Sept. 14.

Garvey explained that one of the primary issues with Second Step was access. Parents simply needed a more convenient way to review materials before showing them to the students.

“For them to get that, they would have to come in, and we would have to show them all individually,” he told the Racine County Eye.

As the Curriculum Committee moves forward with replacing Second Step, finding a program that provides families with access was seen as very important.

The committee — made up of board members Gwen Keller and Audrey Kostuch — is researching two options: Character Counts and Character Strong, which were discussed at a committee meeting on Sept. 14.

The Raymond School counselor was absent from all meetings and discussions, with no opportunity to provide insight into why that curriculum was chosen. Moreover, their expertise in highlighting the curriculum’s strengths and identifying any gaps was disregarded, as they were never included in any of the curriculum-related discussions.

“It’s just so bizarre that they don’t support any of that for their children,” the source said. “So, the school counselor isn’t quite sure how to start the year.”

Social-emotional learning in the classroom

Raymond School
Jeff Peterson

Jeff Peterson, the principal at Raymond School, explained during the committee meeting that students have changed and there is a need for them to have instruction in some skills that would not have been taught at school in years past.

“There’s that piece of a student’s ability to manage time, manage anxiety, manage feelings, which are very different from those character traits we’re teaching,” he said. “In my experience, students are not quite able to handle those things as they have been in the past. Character traits are very worthwhile. I value the instruction aligned to that, but there’s also a need for social-emotional regulation by students in classrooms.

“Teachers probably notice anxiety, anxiousness and difficulty focusing as a daily thing they’re dealing with as they’re making it through the curriculum,” Peterson said.

Character education programs promote the attributes of responsible adults and good citizens.

Garvey told the committee addressing emotions was integral to character education.

“I don’t know how you teach respect without including emotions,” he said. “I don’t know how you have anti-bullying campaigns without teaching respect and kindness.”

Garvey added, “You can’t teach responsibility and allow bullying to happen.”

Committee considers replacement

According to Garvey, both character education programs under discussion integrated some elements of social-emotional learning but “use a different definition” of social-emotional learning.

The foundation of Character Counts includes six pillars the program stresses: fairness, caring, citizenship, trustworthiness, respect, commitment and responsibility.

The second program, Character Strong, teaches patience, kindness, honesty, respect, social-emotional learning, forgiveness and humility.

Garvey said one of the goals was to have one program for all the grade levels to promote consistency. If trustworthiness were being promoted, that would be the word used in kindergarten and all the other grades.

Gathering more information

The committee agreed they needed more information to choose either program and decided to do more research as they wanted to avoid having the same issues that came up with the Second Step program.

The cost of Character Counts and Character Strong was unavailable and will be available once the school moves forward with a contract.

However, the cost of Second Step was available to give the public some idea of how much these types of programs cost:

  • 2018-19 ($1,476 for grades 1-3)
  • 2019-20 ($5,327 for grades k-5)
  • 2020-21 ($1,314 for grades 6-8)
  • 2021-22 ($2,259 for grades k-8)
  • 2022-23 ($2,329 for grades k-8)

Garvey told the Racine County Eye if it turned out the two programs were similar enough, the cost might be a factor in the program that was ultimately chosen.

Otherwise, he did not feel cost should be the primary factor in choosing a curriculum.

More concerns in Raymond

The School Board is meeting tonight to discuss the termination of principal Jeff Peterson, which some are saying has close ties with the curriculum issue. Read more on that here. The Racine County Eye will have more information following the conclusion of the meeting.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.