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EXCLUSIVE: Texas school district denies public access to SEL curriculum, cites 'copyright' protection

Student doing homework (WSYX) and school in Corpus Christi ISD (Corpus Christi ISD).
Student doing homework (WSYX) and school in Corpus Christi ISD (Corpus Christi ISD).
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A Texas school district recently refused to provide public copies of its social-emotional learning curriculum, claiming that the curriculum is protected by copyright law.

The Corpus Christi Independent School District (Corpus Christi ISD) purchased a one-year license with Second Step in 2021, according to documents obtained by advocacy group Parents Defending Education (PDE) and shared exclusively with Crisis in the Classroom (CITC). Second Step is a social-emotional learning curriculum which has programs for students from pre-K to twelfth grade.

On its website, Second Step states that it aims to "help children learn social-emotional skills" and is "committed to addressing racial injustice." Resources listed on the organization's website include "How to Start the Conversation About Racism" and "Talking to Kids About Racial Identity."

An invoice dated September 2021 received by PDE shows that Corpus Christi ISD spent $73,288.88 to utilize Second Step's kindergarten through eighth grade program. However, when PDE asked for copies of lesson plans used by Corpus Christi ISD in the curriculum, the group says it was rejected due to the plans being "protected by copyright."

Corpus Christi ISD told PDE that it "is not required to furnish" the group "with copies of records that are protected by copyright."

The district has a budget of $327.7 million, according to its website.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Corpus Christi ISD told CITC that the district "has not used Second Step in a number of years" and when it did, the curriculum was "a Texas Education Agency approved resource."

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Mailyn Salabarria, PDE'S Director of Community Engagement, told CITC that the use of the curriculum is "a huge disservice to our children who need rigorous academic instruction the most."

"[Corpus Christi ISD] has their priorities upside down by deciding to spend taxpayers' money and children's classroom time in non-academic programs such as Second Steps, all while their students' reading and math proficiency is only 35% and 31% respectively," Salabarria told CITC. "We want our kids to learn math, reading and writing, but this district is neglecting that duty by teaching them about racial injustices instead."

The use of social-emotional learning curriculums has sparked debates in schools nationwide. Earlier this year, a school board member in Loudoun County, Virginia called such teachings "poisonous" and condemned a proposal to recognize "Social Emotional Learning Day."

“Social-emotional learning is taking politics and it's bringing it into the classroom and it's doing it in an extremely subtle way," Loudoun County Public Schools school board member Tiffany Polifko said in February. "We can teach history, we can teach all of history, but what we should not be doing is bringing American Marxism into our schools."

Others support the implementation of social-emotional learning curriculums, arguing that they foster empathy and help students develop supportive relationships.

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A spokesperson for Second Step told CITC that the organization is "driven by rigorous research and deep parent and community engagement—not by political agendas."

"Since 1985, our leading social and emotional development programs have helped students build vital skills for success, like effective communication, resilience, and problem-solving," the spokesperson told CITC. "Research shows that teaching these life skills has positive, lasting effects on K–12 students, including improved academic achievement in areas such as math, reading, and writing. We also know through polling that parents throughout the country overwhelmingly support teaching social and emotional skill development to kids in school."

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