The Cy-Fair ISD board of trustees discussed during an Aug. 5 meeting the potential of implementing new social-emotional learning curriculum for the 2021-22 school year. If approved by the board at next month's meeting, the “Character Strong” program will be implemented for middle and high school students.
While the agenda item was scheduled for approval Aug. 5, trustees ultimately decided to postpone the vote as three board members—Debbie Blackshear, John Ogletree and Julie Hinaman—were absent from the meeting.
Character Strong is a social learning and character development curriculum that teaches self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making, according to the website. Character traits taught include patience, kindness, humility, honesty, respect, selflessness, forgiveness and commitment.
The state requires school districts to adopt social-emotional programs such as Character Strong, according to Roy Garcia, chief officer for school leadership. Franklin Sampson, the district's director of guidance and counseling, said Character Strong will help prepare students for post-secondary education. Funding for the program will come from federal stimulus funds.
Several community members in attendance expressed concerns over the new curriculum during the citizen participation portion of the Aug. 5 meeting, claiming it would incorporate ideas of critical race theory. Critical race theory involves the view that law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself is a socially constructed concept used by white people to promote white supremacy at the expense of people of color.
“Our children deserve transparency and the elimination of social-emotional learning, justice learning [and] equity initiatives that serve to foster division in this community, families and do nothing for their academic achievement,” meeting attendee Judi DeHaan said.
District officials have repeatedly confirmed this theory is not part of its curriculum. Texas House Bill 3979 was signed into law this year, and it prohibits concepts that one race or sex is superior to others and that one is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive based on their race or sex from being taught in public schools.
“Critical race theory, as far as I know, is something taught at some colleges, but it has never, ever been a part of the school district curriculum,” Trustee Don Ryan said at the June 24 board meeting.
Garcia said parents would be able to opt their child out of Character Strong programming and instead take on an alternative assignment that aligns with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirements.
“If there is a lesson that a parent chooses that they do not want their child to be a part of, they have that opportunity to opt out and have an alternative assignment or an alternative method of instruction that has nothing to do with [Character Strong],” he said.
The board is set to vote on the item at the Sept. 13 meeting. Information regarding previous board meetings can be found at www.cfisd.net.