OCPS Chairwoman laments lack of social emotional learning in wake of Texas shooting

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla — As education officials reacted to the Texas school shooting that left 18 elementary students and several adults dead Tuesday, one took aim at Florida’s rejection of a policy she said could avert some future acts of violence.

Orange County Public Schools Board Chairwoman Teresa Jacobs, a former mayor of Orange County, said Social Emotional Learning (SEL) was an important concept for students to learn, despite conservative attempts to remove it from classrooms.

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SEL “is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others,” FloridaSEL.org states. However, its inclusion in some math textbooks led to dozens of rejections by the Florida Department of Education this year.

Jacobs said she and her fellow board members had been criticized when they mentioned their next superintendent needed to understand the concept.

“How important it was for our children to understand their feelings, to have self-awareness, to have awareness of others, to know how to get along with each other and to know how not to get along with each other,” she listed. “How do we deal with our differences in a civil way?”

Details and motivations behind the 18-year-old student’s attack on a nearby elementary school were still being uncovered as of Tuesday night. However, analysts often point out the two connecting threads between many school shootings: the gun and the shooter’s mental state. Jacobs’ argument suggested the inclusion of SEL, along with additional mental health attention inside schools, could help address the latter.

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She’s far from the only person who believes that. As she was making her comments, LGBTQ students and allies were protesting the district outside the building. One stepped away to offer his thoughts on the state of students these days.

“I’m here protesting the banning of books and kits elementary school kids are getting shot at get getting shot by someone who should not have a weapon,” Santiago Mayer, an LA-based college student and leader of Voters of Tomorrow, said. “All these things are having an emotional effect. We’re seeing suicide rates on the rise. We’re seeing people who don’t know what to do with their emotions, and we need to be able to teach them how to handle those emotions.”

Mayer said politicians who argue that math classes should stick to the subject matter were missing the point.

“It is really not worth teaching history if the kids are too depressed to learn about it,” he said. “It is not worth thinking of talking about math if the kids are worried about being shot.”

The Florida Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

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Jacobs made no other remarks about the shooting, only asking teachers and support staff to show up for a hopefully uneventful final day of school Tuesday.

“I hope and pray that for the last day of school tomorrow, we are all hands on deck,” she said.

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