Sometimes objectionable material is presented to public school students in subtle ways and isn't as obvious as a bathroom policy or a classroom discussion on the proper use of pronouns. But it's there if one knows how to look – and Marsha Metzger knows how to peel away the layers of the onion.
A Georgia mother, Metzger and her group Parents on the Level use the Freedom of Information Act to access public school records and inform parents of what's being taught to their children. The group has been active in 14 school districts in South Georgia.
What Metzger has found through FOIA requests to review emails, purchasing orders and the like has centered on digital material downloaded to students' laptops.
Even before the pandemic, the use of digital publishing was on the increase – then "tons of money came through COVID," Metzger said on American Family Radio Friday. "[Now] students are getting these digital programs put in their laptops where they're getting educated about all kinds of things that really might not have as much to do with English and language arts as you would think."
Metzger, president and founder of Parents on the Level, told show host Fred Jackson that much of the concern centers around what has become known as "Social and Emotional Learning." SEL is what many schools use to help develop students outside the classroom.
Some school administrators say they see a connection between higher SEL scores, fewer instances of students being suspended from school and higher scores in reading and math. That connection validates SEL in the minds of many administrators.
"We can't say for sure that one predicts the other, but seeing the improvement gives us the will to continue what we're doing," Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland (Ohio) Metropolitan School District, told U.S. News & World Report last year.
Out-sourcing the education of life skills
Traditionally, sports teams, theatre groups, service clubs and similar programs were avenues to help students with self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills. But now, according to Metzger, that's often handled by a written curriculum that may not be aligned with values taught by parents in many of the students' homes.
"[Students] are being brought into a worldview shift through diversity, equity, and inclusion, and all of this is found in the framework that has been placed throughout these schools," she said.
"Parents here just assumed that they could put education on cruise control, that this wasn't in South Georgia where we have been called the Bible Belt of the Bible Belt – but no, it is here, and I have found all kinds of information in South Georgia."
Apparently, the belt has loosened a few notches.
Metzger says that among her discoveries she's come across a non-binary man she believes is teaching students how to "come out" as gay; and another man, while teaching a health class, guiding students on his version of sex education instead.
"He is telling kids that as long as they have consent, they're good to go. So, they're encouraging them to have sex instead of waiting [for marriage]," she added.
Metzger tries to educate parents on how to understand what their children may be learning in school through her book "The Parent Navigator."
Some schools don't know the content of their curriculum, Metzger said. This can happen because companies that produce these materials have been sold and re-sold. Their video content is expansive and includes conveniences for the user that allows a teacher to customize a program for an individual child.
Schools may also customize a program for an individual with data collected from the government program Common Education Data Standards.
"It's really invasive. It will collect data on your child and how they connect to you as the parent," Metzger said. "You can see the data they're collecting on our kids all the way through being an adult."
Simple process … but a complicated response
Anyone can file a Freedom of Information Act request to view public records. A Google search will provide instructions on a request process that isn't complicated. What may be complicated is the school's response. Not all of them, Metzger found, will eagerly comply.
"I've had responses where I have some school districts that are right there with me. 'Please show me if that's in our school,' they said. Then I have some school districts that I have to fight with the attorney general to get them to do what needs to be done. I'm in a toe-to-toe with one school system right now with the attorney general looking into it," she said.
Metzger first filed an FOIA request simply seeking information on how her Georgia school was teaching sex education. Through that request she learned about SEL. The school's director of curriculum told Metzger that SEL "is really more of a mental health approach. We are trying to keep our students alive."
Read "Sex Education and SEL" (blog by Marsha Metzger and Linda Harvey)
The former educator, who taught sex education in Pennsylvania public schools before moving to the South, admits it's been a shocking journey for her.
"When I … taught sex education in the public schools in Pennsylvania, a blue state, I was able to go in and teach under the auspices of a crisis pregnancy center. I taught abstinence and encouraged students to wait for marriage, and I was well received in Pennsylvania," Metzger said.
"When I came to South Georgia, I couldn't get in the first school. It just absolutely blew my mind that I couldn't get into the schools. The thing is, they're afraid that they will be attacked by the Left. That is a lot of what's taking place."