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Homebase: Junior High class challenges youths to think about their future; a few don’t like that

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | January 26, 2022 7:40 AM

y CHRIS PETERSON

Hungry Horse News

The Columbia Falls School District 6 board earlier this month told a small but vocal group it would not debate the merits of a class at the junior high called Homebase that uses, in part, a curriculum known as social and emotional learning.

The group of folks, many of which don’t even have children attending Columbia Falls schools, have urged the board over the past several weeks to place the class on the agenda. About 10 people recently signed a petition asking the board to debate the merits of the class.

School board chairwoman Jill Rocksund noted there were several reasons for not placing the class on the agenda.

“We don’t have the ability to ‘unadopt’ SEL instruction, just as we don’t have the  authority to disregard Montana state standards,” she noted in a statement written by the board to the group. “Standards and learning  competencies are constructed by the state Office of Public Instruction, and local districts do not have the authority  to disregard them.”

She also noted that the district had largely developed its own curriculum for the class, within the state standards.

“Local districts do have the authority and duty to select learning materials and  create instructional lessons that align with these state standards and learning  competencies, and that is what has been done,” she said. 

The group’s objections have evolved in the past few meetings. At first they objected to the counseling aspect of the class, claiming kids would be better off studying than spending a half hour thinking about their futures.

At the last meeting, some opponents claimed the class was teaching Critical Race Theory, a controversial curriculum that refers to how different forms of discrimination (such as sexism and racism) can overlap and compound each other, according to legal scholars.

Critical Race Theory has been widely panned and criticized by Republicans. For example, Montana Sen. Steve Daines on Monday sent out a press release endorsing school choice. In it he called Critical Race Theory “a destructive ideology.”

The Hungry Horse News sat in on an eighth-grade Homebase class last week. It’s taught for a half-hour each Wednesday morning to all grades. On this day, the students were asked to chose a word to try to live by for the rest of the school year. Students chose a gamut of words, like kindness, consistent, hustle, forgive, embrace, etc.

One girl said she chose the word “determined.”

“Because I can be just as good as my brothers, and better at times,” she said.

Principal Ted Miller, who taught this class because they were short staffed due to illness, said the curriculum is school driven and they can tweak it as the school year goes along.

He said it’s reduced the number of conflicts among students, as they share ideas openly.

Another part of this particular class included advice on how to achieve goals, like a New Year’s resolution. The advice was rather simple: Rather than taking on a momentous task, like, for example trying to lose 40 pounds, it’s better to break it into smaller, more attainable feats, like losing 5 pounds at a time.

But some parents remain unconvinced.

“It’s critical race theory rebranded,” one opponent claimed of during a recent school board meeting., but offered no evidence of that.

Opponents have also claimed teachers weren’t qualified.

But longtime teacher Paula Koch noted teachers largely have master’s degrees already and some have doctorates. Most also have years of experience working with kids.

“It breaks my heart (that some think) we might not be considered experts,” she said at the board meeting.

The school has allowed students to opt out of the class — they can come to school a bit later on Wednesdays. The school board also noted the classes are doing some good.

“Right now we are living in unprecedented times. People are struggling…. Adults  are struggling…. Lost jobs, insecure housing and food, stress in the home, dealing  with illness and even death … These are the times that our children are living in  and they, too, are struggling. Approximately 20% of our Columbia Falls junior high and high school students have contemplated suicide within the last year according to  Montana’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Our students need support to cope with  these times, they need this support so that they can learn. That is what SD6  teachers and staff are doing, helping them learn and also learn to cope in these  stressful times. Now is not the time to reduce our support to our students,” Rocksund said.

Having said that, the board said the schools are willing to work with parents and their concerns.

“We will continue to work with individual parents who have concerns and would  like an alternative or to opt out. And if parents want to opt out of this  instruction, they should contact their building principal for other alternatives  besides the late arrival already being offered,” she noted.