Concerned Hamilton County Parents Ask Questions About Social Emotional Learning Surveys

Photo Credit: Panorama / Facebook

The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –

Concerned parents have reached out to The Tennessee Conservative regarding social emotional learning (SEL) surveys being taken by students in Hamilton County Schools.

The parents state, “We’re researching and trying to understand these [Social Emotional Learning] surveys Hamilton County Schools are doing. What data are they collecting? Who has access to the data? Have parents been notified and given the opportunity to opt out? (No). Other areas of the country report their students are being asked how old were they when they first had sex, how many partners, same sex/opposite sex, etc. [This is] very intrusive.”

HCS started using the SEL survey from Panorama Education (a company founded by Attorney General Merrick Garland’s son-in-law)  in 8 schools in the 2019/2020 school year. A year later, surveys were being conducted in 14 schools and this current school year sees 22 schools participating. The district plans to have “Student Success Planning” in every school by 2026.

Patricia Russell, director of social emotional learning and K-12 school counseling at HCS says the ultimate goal is “for our work with our assessment data to lead to the district-wide implementation of “student success planning profiles.” In two years, we hope to have an individualized plan for every student.”

In an interview with Panorama, Russell said, “We can’t miss the basic needs of our students… Do our students feel like they belong? Are their social and emotional needs being met? Do they have health concerns that we are aware of and dealing with? What is their family life like? Can they bring their full selves to school and achieve their potential academically? Knowing the answers to these types of questions is what truly educating the whole child is all about.”

It’s not just students who will take surveys. ”We can also capture additional feedback both from our teachers as well from families. Sending these surveys home to families is one avenue through which we can engage caregivers as true partners.”

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What is social-emotional learning? From the SEL user guide, Panorama says, “Social-emotional learning describes the mindsets, skills, attitudes, and feelings that help students succeed in school, career, and life. At its core, SEL focuses on students’ fundamental needs for motivation, social connectedness, and self-regulation as prerequisites for learning. Educators may also refer to SEL as “non-cognitive skills,” “soft skills,” “21st century skills,” “character strengths,” and “whole child development.” 


Parents around the country have sounded the alarm about SEL surveys. One group, Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater NY said in a statement last month, “We know school districts need to extract certain kinds of answers from our kids, to justify their Critical Race Theory (CRT) and associated identity pedagogies. For all these reasons, don’t consent to the surveys!”

Schools and districts select the topics that are most important to them and can have surveys designed specifically for them. Under the heading, “USING PANORAMA’S SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING SURVEY” Panorama says, “In selecting survey topics and interpreting data about SEL, it is essential for educators to consider how situational or systemic forces, such as racism and racial bias, shape students’ lives and to recognize that students’ social-emotional growth is the shared responsibility of students, educators, families, and their broader communities.”

They go on to say, “When interpreting data on students’ skills and competencies, we recommend that educators explicitly consider students’ lived experiences and how their environments contribute to their experiences… The best SEL interventions may be less about shifting student perceptions, mindsets, or habits, and more about ensuring that their school environments are safe, supportive, and equitable.”

So what happens to all of the student data being collected in the surveys? According to Panorama’s privacy policy, schools own all data and control data use. “Panorama does not use student data for purposes other than serving schools and districts.”

School districts have spent a good deal of money to work with Panorama who is reported to have brought in at least $27 million from 1,500 districts around the country, including more than 50 of the largest 100 districts in the country such as New York City Department of Education, Clark County School District in Nevada, Dallas ISD in Texas and the Hawaii Department of Education.

According to a report last month, many district leaders plan to spend federal COVID-19 relief aid of social emotional learning and supports.

Below are slides from the Hamilton County Schools November school board meeting showing the massive social services project & infrastructure the district is working on. (courtesy of Moms for Liberty)


About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and contributor to The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at

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