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Marion County School Board balks at replacements for Sanford Harmony program

Marion County School Board Chairwoman Nancy Thrower speaks during a meeting on Thursday.  Image: MCPS video
Marion County School Board Chairwoman Nancy Thrower speaks during a meeting on Thursday. Image: MCPS video

Three months ago, the Marion County School Board removed the Sanford Harmony social emotional learning -- or SEL -- program because of how it countered gender stereotyping.

A Baptist pastor told them its lessons on gender norms blurred the lines between "boyness and girlness."

On Thursday, the board struggled to replace that free and highly rated curriculum for its students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Florida's SEL requirement, imposed after the school shooting three years ago in Parkland, helps kids learn to manage emotions, show empathy and build healthy relationships.

So after ditching Sanford Harmony, the district formed a committee and is recommending two programs:

- Caring School Community for a one-time cost of about 200-thousand dollars, or

- ReThink SEL, an online curriculum costing half that much every year.

But the School Board had concerns about the cost, and more.

Chairwoman Nancy Thrower noted that 786 students were considered at-risk for suicide last school year.

"So we can't shy away from this," she said. "We can't decide to do nothing. We have to do something. But what that something is? My jury is still out."

They agreed to seek more community input and to hear directly from the two companies.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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