Social Emotional Learning ban brings out strong opposition 

On Monday, February 5, Representative John Sellers (R-Bristol) introduced a bill that would ban social-emotional learning (SEL) in public schools. House Bill (HB) 1473 would also prohibit schools from collecting or using student data pertaining to school climate, including “education, confidence, connections, motivations, stress, and/or well-being.” 

When introducing the bill to the House Education Committee, Sellers said that social emotional learning (SEL) is “indoctrination” of students. It’s a familiar conservative talking point that dates back several years, appearing first in the right-wing media outlet The Washington Examiner, as reported by the American Psychological Association. 

But the ban was met with strong opposition, including from 6-year-old Cordelia Dubois, a first-grader at Abbott-Downing School in Concord. “My mom told me that there could be a new rule so kids couldn’t take social-emotional learning, or SEL, classes anymore. I did not like that because SEL class helps me stay calm and be happier,” she told the committee. She then walked committee members through a deep breathing technique she learned from school to help her calm down. 

“This bill seems less about supporting and nurturing our children and more about the profound and troubling trend: the active dismantling of the public education system,” Dr. Mary Steady, Director of Pupil Services at Lin-Wood School in Lincoln, said in her opposition to the bill. “We need to ask our legislators if this bill is just another attempt to gut a part of the educational system so it will cease to exist?” 

Over 4,000 people and organizations opposed the bill at the hearing on Monday, including the New Hampshire chapter of the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI-NH) and New Futures, an organization that works to improve the health and well-being of all Granite Staters through public policy change and civic empowerment. The House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on a recommendation for the bill on February 13.

What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is an evidence-based teaching framework that focuses on helping young people understand and manage their emotions, build healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions. 

The framework provides people with the tools to “manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions,” as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). 

In 2018, the state worked to provide access to ChooSELove, a curriculum free of charge, to all public and charter school districts and other state departments.

“This bill runs counter to the strategic plan of the Concord School District, which prioritizes the development of the whole child and recognizes that separating academic achievement from social-emotional skills would negatively impact our ability to successfully educate our students,” said Concord School District’s Director of Student and Staff Wellness, Fern Seiden. “Passing HB 1473 would hinder the development of the young people in our state to be ready to succeed both in school and in their future.”

At Spaulding Academy & Family Services, social-emotional learning is essential to educating students. Since being implemented in 2022, their SEL framework has dramatically improved their students’ day-to-day experiences. 

Students who once had 18-13 monthly behavioral referrals have now been decreased to one. Some students who only used to attend school less than 50% of the time are now attending 90%-100%, Garrett Lavallee, Principal and Special Education Director at Spaulding Academy, told the committee in his opposition to HB 1473. 

“I think we are doing a great dishonor by even discussing this [HB 1473]; it feels negligent even to have the words coming out of my mouth that we are going to take SEL away,” Lavallee said.

SEL ban would have far-reaching implications

In addition to banning the teaching of social-emotional learning in public schools, the bill could have even farther-reaching implications. At the hearing, representatives from two state departments, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health and Human Services, spoke in opposition, expressing how this ban would impact their work.

New Hampshire Department of Corrections Director of Rehabilitative Services, Nicholas Duffy, shared how the Department’s partnership with ChooSELove and implementation of SEL in their programs has been essential. 

Not only do these programs teach social-emotional learning skills, but they also allow individuals to learn the tools to develop relationships and prepare them for the workforce. Nicholas Duffy stated, “We want people to leave incarceration and not come back, and we believe that this would be a big step backward to have to take this out of our curriculum and education.”  

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) opposed the bill and cited a list of programs that would be defunded if the SEL ban were implemented, including the NH Student Assistance Programs, Children’s System of Care, Suicide Prevention in Schools, and Partnership with Domestic Violence Crisis Centers. 

“These voluntary, school-based programs support New Hampshire youth and families in every corner of the state,” stated DHHS Associate Commissioner Patricia M. Tilley. 

DHHS also shared concerns about how this bill would conflict with already established State Plans and how it could impact federal funding and other existing legislative requirements.

Next Steps

The House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on a recommendation for HB 1473 on Tuesday, February 13. The bill will likely go to the floor of the House for a vote in March. 

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