The attorney for a parent group that seeks to protect students and their privacy has issued a letter to Apex Middle School and the Wake County School Board regarding an invasive new weekly activity called “Circles.”
The “Circles” activity mimics a group therapy setting and school officials have indicated that it is tied to the controversial concept adopted by Wake County Schools called “social-emotional learning” or “SEL.”
The letter, penned by Raleigh area attorney Tyler Brooks on behalf of Parents for the Protection of Students, asks that the school and districts “immediately and permanently suspend any group therapy program, including but not limited to “Circles,” at Apex Middle School and at any other school at which such a program has been instituted.”
“These are not academic topics; they are topics for a group therapy session,” the letter reads.
The letter also states that the “Circles” activity “effectively compels disclosure of highly sensitive and personal information from students,” and lists several types of emotional and personal information being exacted from the students.
“As with a situation that has arisen in another school in this district, we are thus again faced with the school system’s potential failure to comply with federal privacy protections,” says Brooks in the letter.
“This program is designed for and by their express description, to ‘deal with difficult emotions’ and to not ‘let students hide behind a desk’,” Brooks said.
“It’s meant to delve into difficult topics about the student, the student’s home life, the student’s experience with traumatic things like being bullied…this is what someone would go to therapy or group therapy for,” said Brooks adding that group therapy is done under the supervision of a licensed counselor or psychologist.
The letter on behalf of the parent group asks for an outside investigation to determine how the program was developed and implemented when it is “in apparent contravention of the licensing standards established by the state regulatory authorities vested with jurisdiction over the practices of psychology and counseling.”
In addition, the parent group wants the school district to give all parents and students a summary statement of their personal privacy rights, “as recognized by the district.”
Two weeks ago, Wake County schools were forced to issue a memo to all staff outlining federal privacy laws that were broken by a teacher using a diversity inventory assignment at Heritage High School in northern Wake County. The parents and students at Heritage still say that they still are waiting for answers as to where the diversity inventory came from nor have they received any direction from the district about their rights or possible recourse options.
Wake County Board Chair Jim Martin responded to the letter in an email, stating “I acknowledge receiving and reading your letter.”
“I do want to be clear that circle times are not in any way therapy sessions and should not be construed as such,” Martin wrote. “As a school system, we are aware of, and do education staff on what is, and what is not appropriate to ask students to share.”
Martin also said he forwarded the letter to additional staff but did not name them.
Brooks said that the district has “not really responded” and called Martin’s reaction “disheartening.”
“This is a time for the school board, which are elected leaders who are vested with the authority to educate children, need to be in a listening mode and a responsive mode. Not circling the wagons, not trying to defend themselves, but to be open and listen to these concerns,” said Brooks.
Speaking of the board, Brooks said that they “ought to be in a mode of engagement” and not “in a mode of defense.” Brooks added the board doesn’t seem to be trying to remedy what is seemingly a violation of the law on multiple levels.
More About “Circles”
As previously reported, students either participate or, as several families have discovered, the students who do not participate are sent to the principal’s office. Brooks confirmed to this website that there is no ‘opt-out’ of “Circles” that he’s been able to identify.
“When push comes to shove, they’ve been told they can go to the principal’s office,” said Brooks. “The students are ostracized by going to the principal’s office.”
Every Monday, students lose 30 minutes to “Circles” that had been used for academic instruction or additional help. As the name suggests, students literally sit in a circle where they are “welcomed” and told to “pause, breathe and listen to the sound.”
There are rules for Circles:
A “talking piece” is passed from student to student and each child is told to talk about their feelings about the topic for the morning which comes from a predetermined list.
Parents were not informed about “Circles” nor were asked permission for their child to participate.
Upon asking for materials, the school’s principal was hesitant to turn over the materials. It took several attempts to get all the requested documents.