May 2017

Consider This… Things to Consider in May 2017

Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Position Paper on Behavioral Health and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)Executive Summary
The purpose of this paper is to identify the current conditions and challenges associated with meeting students’ social emotional learning needs and to outline the context in which schools are endeavoring to address these needs and to meet the challenges associated with this work. This paper will also identify the key partnerships and recommended actions.

We hope that the content of this paper will inform the thinking of our members and provide them with research based information to use in addressing social emotional learning in their respective districts. The paper is extensive and members should feel free to use those portions of the document that best meet the context of their district.

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Suspended Education in Massachusetts
This report, authored by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, suggests that students in Massachusetts are missing an inordinate number of days of instruction due to discipline, and black students and students with disabilities are bearing the brunt of this loss of opportunity to learn. Using school discipline data from the state, this report argues for systemic reform in discipline and calls on the state to use “days of lost instruction” as an accountability measure to evaluate schools.

Clinical Considerations Related to the Behavioral Manifestations of Child Maltreatment
In response to the ongoing public health crisis of adverse childhood experiences and their deleterious impact on neurodevelopment, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released this clinical report. Pediatricians can assist caregivers by helping them recognize the abused or neglected child’s emotional and behavioral responses associated with child maltreatment and guide them in the use of positive parenting strategies, referring the children and families to evidence-based therapeutic treatment and mobilizing available community resources.

The Healing Power of Hugs (or Should Psychotherapists Hug Their Patients?)
“Today, neuroscientists have learned that when humans get emotionally upset, our bodies react to manage the increased energy. These physical reactions bring discomfort at best and at worst are unbearable. What can we do to obtain immediate help when we are distressed so that we don’t have to resort to superficial balms like drugs or psychological mechanisms like repression? What kind of relief is affordable, efficient, effective and nontoxic? The answer is touch. Hugs and other forms of nonsexual physical soothing, like hand-holding and head stroking, intervene at the physical level to help the brain and the body calm down from overwhelming states of anxiety, panic and shame.”

Black Girls 6 Times as Likely to Be Suspended as Whites. ‘Let Her Learn’ Looks to Reverse the Trend
This short article offers further resources on the inequities involved in the removal of African-American girls from the nation’s classrooms due to vague disciplinary policies, like dress codes and hair styles. First person stories are told in a video released in January by the National Women’s Law Center as part of its “Let Her Learn” campaign, which aims to fight the unfair suspensions of black girls for minor infractions. This video is included in the article. 

Can Love Close the Achievement Gap?
There are five evidence-based parenting principles included in what is being called the Boston Basics: maximize love, manage stress; talk, sing, and point; count, group, and compare; explore through movement and play; and read and discuss stories. The advice to “maximize love, manage stress” tends to be one that strikes a chord with parents, many of whom are advised not to hold their babies too much or coddle them as they become toddlers. “This concern about spoiling babies is pervasive,” states Ronald Ferguson, the lead creator of the Basics “whereas the sense of safety and being loved is foundational for later development.”

Safe Havens
Child advocates and experts have documented for over a decade the overrepresentation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) youth in child welfare, juvenile justice and runaway and homeless youth compared to the general population. Further, transgender, gender-expansive and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) youth, who may identify across the sexual orientation spectrum, are overrepresented in these systems at even higher rates than youth who identify as LGBQ. This report details the explicit protections that exist (or do not exist) in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Voc-Tech Tension
While some vocational schools have unfilled seats, many of those serving the state’s Gateway Cities – former industrial centers such as New Bedford, Worcester, and Fitchburg – are now oversubscribed. According to a report issued last year by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, 3,200 students were on waiting lists at Massachusetts vocational schools for the 2015-16 school year. Gateway Cities account for roughly one-quarter of all public school students statewide, but they were home to 53 percent of those unable to land a spot at a vocational school.

On the Front Lines: How Comfort vs. Control Works in Practice
This YouTube presentation, hosted by Kim Sanders, President of Ukeru Systems (whose stated intent is the reduction and gradual elimination of restraints) showcases two different school systems, one serving kids with autism and one serving kids with behavioral/mental health & trauma issues. They adopted new techniques that dramatically reduced restraints and seclusion and thereby also increased staff retention.

Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative at 25: Insights from the Annual Results Reports
This report provides evidence that JDAI sites have achieved significant reductions in both juvenile incarceration and juvenile crime; and in most sites, those reductions have been sustained or deepened over time. The report also indicates that despite best efforts, racial and ethnic disparities have persisted or worsened overall; and in some sites, the momentum of detention reform appears to have slowed in recent years.

Useful Tools and Resources

IEP: Students Benefit When We Collaborate
Contains tips for both parents and teachers to improve collaboration around creating individualized education programs. Of particular interest: “Be mindful of the curse of knowledge.”

New Complex Trauma Fact Sheets/Resources
The NCTSN (National Child Traumatic Stress Network) Complex Trauma and Developmental Trauma Disorder Work Group has released 4 new fact sheets, extending a series designed to introduce Complex Trauma to a variety of audiences and provide recommendations for how to support youth.

The Trauma Therapist:  Inspiring Interviews with Thought-Leaders in the Field of Trauma
These free audio pod-casts feature Bruce Perry, Gabor Mate, Janina Fisher and many other of the world’s leading master therapists, thought leaders and game-changers who specialize in PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma and complex trauma, and related fields.

Outside-The-Box College Accommodations: Real Support for Real Students
Students who have a mental health condition may need additional support to help them do the best they can in school and work. The “American with Disabilities Act” (ADA) entitles students with disabilities, like mental health conditions, to get academic help with academic accommodations and other legal rights. This tip sheet will help students and providers to think “outside-the-box” to get post-secondary educational accommodations.

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week
PPAL (Parent Professional Advocacy League) is offering a free tool kit for Children’s Mental Health Week that includes: Poster, Calendar of Events, Calendar of Facts, Bookmarks, and Timeline.

Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Position Paper on Behavioral Health and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)-Wednesday, May 17, 2017 from 12:30PM-1:30PM
In the spring of 2016 the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents authored a position paper on Behavioral Health and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). The purpose of this paper was to identify the current conditions and challenges associated with meeting students’ social emotional learning needs and to outline the context in which schools are endeavoring to address these needs and to meet the challenges associated with this work. This paper also identified the key partnerships and recommended actions.

The participants will frame the problem, identify specific challenges and will offer some recommended strategies that school districts can employ to successfully implement effective SEL practice to benefit all members of their school communities. Participants include: David DeRuosi, Superintendent of Saugus Public Schools; John Doherty, Superintendent of Reading Public Schools; Christopher Malone, Superintendent of Tewksbury Public Schools; Christine L. McGrath, Director of Operations for Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents

For more on this topic, please read our RTSC Feature Article: M.A.S.S. Position Paper on Behavioral Health and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

Featured Article Continued… 

Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Position Paper:Behavioral Health and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Executive Summary 

Framing the Problem
The nature of this problem has changed. Children in schools today are dealing with an increase in everyday stressors such as peer relationships, academic pressure, and social media resulting in feelings of anxiety, depression, and emotional stress and in some cases a motivation to develop and execute a suicide plan. Evidence also suggests a higher incidence of children exposed to trauma (e.g. involvement with DCF or court system, family substance use disorders, unemployment, etc.).
This changing problem is further exacerbated by the acute lack of psychiatric hospitals and crisis centers. The lack of resources in this time of critical need has extended the waiting time for students in need of psychiatric intervention. These students remain in school and the school often becomes the “default” for the mental health system. Recent changes in the student discipline regulations have often required schools to maintain students who do not possess the social emotional skills to be successful or even to negotiate the stimulation of the traditional school environment.

Supporting a Readiness to Learn in Every Student- School Partnerships and Recommended Actions
M.A.S.S. Position Paper- Executive Summary (2)

School districts need many partners to join us in this work. Schools cannot go it alone. We have endeavored to identify the respective groups, the partnerships that schools can forge with these partners and some proposed specific action plans.
Social Service Agencies

  • Develop and provide accessible direct services to students with direct access to social service agencies within the school setting to increase the coordination of these services and the communication among the service providers.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

  • Provide districts with technical assistance and funding around the development of curriculum, instruction and assessment of social emotional learning in their districts.

Higher Education

  • Establish a working group comprised of DESE and leaders of higher education institutions and public schools to develop a plan for the vertical articulation of a social emotional learning curriculum/program of study for pre-k through 16.
  • Include a social emotional learning competency within the educator licensure requirements.


  • Enact legislation that creates inter-agencies teams to support the coordination of social services both in the schools and throughout the communities.
  • Promote legislative action on the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission recommendations.

Recommended Actions for School Districts

  • Build social emotional learning into the core values of the district, the action plans for district improvement and make it a core strand in the district professional development plan.
  • Integrate social emotional learning within the educator evaluation system through the goal setting process and the teacher feedback following classroom observations.
  • Identify both formative and summative assessment tools to monitor the health of the school climate and the success of the social emotional learning program.
  • Survey districts to identify highly effective programs, curricula, partnerships, training and professional development. The results of this survey could form the foundation of a bank of resources and eliminate the practice of districts working in isolation.

School districts across the State are responding to the need for social-emotional learning. Our efforts to date have met with mixed results and this concern continues to grow. We need a more focused approach to this work. We need to strike a balance between the quest for high academic standards with

M.A.S.S. Position Paper- Executive Summary (3)

The importance of maintaining a supportive and positive school culture. We have a duty to develop students who are socially competent and emotionally grounded. We also need to be attentive to supporting the social-emotional need of the adults so that they can create the conditions necessary to achieve this objective.
 To read the full PDF and for more information on SEL click here

*Disclaimer: While every effort is made to ensure that the contents of Consider This… is accurate, the Federation for Children with Special Needs makes no representations or warranties in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information found within the enclosed articles. The contents within this transmission is provided in good faith, and nothing included in it should be taken to constitute or imply professional advice, an endorsement or a formal recommendation.