Once, public schools were places where parents sent their children to get an academic education. They were taught civics, traditional math that actually required getting the correct answer, and American patriotism.

That has all changed. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the purpose of education is no longer academic but social and emotional learning that often is used as a cover for progressive indoctrination. Social emotional learning was originally billed as support to help children with self-management and making personal decisions, the same life skills that good teachers have been trying to instill since colonial days.

But recently, SEL purveyors, including the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, have shifted their goals to include equity, a concept of critical race theory. CASEL advocates for “Transformative SEL” to promote “justice-oriented civic engagement.” Schools see SEL as a way to address racial injustice.

SEL has exploded in public schools. Billions in federal COVID-relief money for schools are being used to purchase SEL materials and fund SEL teachers. Nationwide, sales of SEL materials shot up 45 percent in just a year and a half, to $765 million in 2021.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has cautioned that SEL programs shift “the role of teachers from educators to therapists.”

Companies providing ancillary services for SEL purveyors collect data and provide apps for classroom mental assessments on children. One such company is Rhithm, a software company that promises to “bring data into your work to understand how your SEL implementations are working.”

Rhithm provides an app to perform a biopsychosocial assessment. A BPS assessment is typically conducted by therapists and counselors at the beginning of therapy and assesses for biological, psychological, and social factors that can be contributing to a problem or problems with a client.

Yet this mental assessment is being given to students by teachers who are not trained as therapists and counselors. Even students are required to perform mental assessments on themselves. Although most children come to school ready to learn and without major behavioral problems, this assessment is given to all students.

By law, children under age 13 cannot be given a mental assessment without parental consent. Even though Rhithm’s policy acknowledges this, all children in grades K-12 are being assessed without prior parental consent. This is not only a violation of Rhithm’s privacy policy, but also of the Texas Education Code and the Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

Since only teachers, school administrators, and district administrators are allowed to see the data in real time, many parents are unaware that their children are being mentally assessed, with the personal data stored permanently and shared with third parties.

Rhithm declares that student data will not be used for marketing or advertising. However, buried in the fine print, Rhithm discloses that it can share the personal student data with third parties including “parent, subsidiaries and affiliates, and investors primarily for business and operational purposes.”

In the past, federal law protected student personal data. However, Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act (FERPA) was unconstitutionally shredded a decade ago so that now third parties, claiming a need for educational purposes, can access the information without prior parental consent or parents knowing how the data will be used or shared.

Rhithm has used this unconstitutional method to access records of students. Rhithm is “FERPA compliant by design, [the] data is all stored on dedicated FERPA and HIPPA compliant servers inside the United States.”

Parents are in an uproar over this mental assessment, and school boards are playing the usual game of bullying the parents. Board members claim opting out is a choice, yet removing the Rhithm app from the student’s electronic device is impossible.

In Lewisville ISD (Texas), a mother tried to opt her child out through the usual legal forms, but her request was denied. She was told she could only opt her child out of specific individual assignments, which would be replaced by the same content with different wording.

She has withdrawn her child from the public schools and has requested repeatedly through emails, at school board meetings, and through public information forms to have access to the data collected by Rhithm and SEL programs and then to have it deleted from the system. Her requests continue to be ignored.

Although school boards claim that opting out is a solution for concerned parents, they are missing the point. Parents should not have to be opting out or opting in. Taxpayers are paying for the academic education of children, not for mental assessments nor a mental health curriculum being used illegally to smuggle in left-wing ideology.

Founded in 2020 by Josh Knutson, a former psychotherapist, and Jake Gannon, a former utility executive, Rhithm is already in more than 1,000 schools in more than 16 states. Based in Denton, Texas, the company’s software is used in numerous Texas school districts, including Lewisville, Fort Worth, Coppell, Denton, Lubbock, Wichita Falls, and Allen, as well as Momentous Institute.

Getting Rhithm and all SEL programs defunded in their local schools should be a top priority for all parents.

This is a commentary published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to submission@texasscorecard.com.

Carole Hornsby Haynes

Carole Hornsby Haynes is an education policy analyst, curriculum specialist, historian, and publisher of "The Haynes Report."