Senate Bill 40 (SB40), sponsored by State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) passed the Senate 28-1. Only Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) voted against it.

SB40, according to the fiscal note, “Would require the State Department of Education (SDE) to: (1) develop and implement a comprehensive program to address the mental health of Tier II students; (2) create a self-assessment tool for schools and school districts to determine the effectiveness of the program in helping Tier II students; and (3) develop a safe and supportive school framework. These provisions would increase the obligations of the Department by an undetermined amount dependent upon the costs to develop and disseminate to local boards of education a comprehensive program self-assessment tool, safe school framework, model protocols and best practices.”

The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Education Committee for their consideration. W&ME meets at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, but SB40 is not on the agenda.

The bill was very uncontroversial when it passed the State Senate. Now many conservatives are asking the House to kill Sen. Smitherman’s bill.

Former State Board of Education Member Betty Peters (R) and Debbie Robbins are the Secretary and Chaplain of the Houston County Republican Party. The two co-wrote an opinion piece critical of the effort to expand what they call social-emotional learning (SEL).

“In the last week or so, both houses of the Alabama legislature passed bills to require mental health programs in every school in Alabama. House Bill 123 passed unanimously, and Senate Bill 40 passed with one negative vote,” Peters and Moore wrote. “We have just learned this alarming news and wanted to share our concerns with your readers. This appears to be part of a nationwide initiative, funded by President Biden’s Department of Education with a massive amount of federal dollars. Instead of being about counseling students, it’s really about immersing students in “cultural Marxism” by promoting SEL (social-emotional learning) which includes teaching such topics as social justice, white privilege, LGBTQ, CRT (critical race theory) and CSE (comprehensive sex education). SEL is mentioned many times throughout the SB 40.”

The pair expressed concerns about privacy and parents’ rights.

“Nowhere in SB 40 or HB 123 is there any mention of protecting students’ personal information or assuring parents’ rights are preserved regarding what their children are taught about very sensitive curriculum content,” Peters and Moore wrote. “In fact, on page 9 of SB 40 it is stated that nothing in section F limits the department’s ability to contract with external partners or regional service organizations to provide technical assistance and information to school districts on the implementation of the framework and action plans.

“At this point in time, when Alabama’s schools are rated at the very bottom of the list of states in academic performance, these two concerned grandmothers believe we need to return to more traditional foundational education based on the teaching of facts, not feelings and attitudes."

1819 News has talked with conservative parents who suggested that issues such as transgenderism, alternative lifestyles, and social Marxism would be promoted by these policies. There is a concern that parents would not have appropriate control over services provided to their children. Conservatives claim that SEL is being used to promote “correct” attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and behaviors and that the "correct" view is not the Christian or traditional American view on moral and social issues.

A recent Op-ed in the Federalist was shared with 1819 News. It is Debbie Robbins' claim that SEL is being used to spread anti-white racism. Link here:

HB123 is sponsored by House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville).

HB123 according to the synopsis of the engrossed version would, “Require each local board of education and independent school system in the state, subject to appropriations by the Legislature, to employ a mental health service coordinator; to provide for the qualifications and duties of the mental health service coordinator; to require each local board of education and independent school system to complete and submit a needs assessment relating to the provision of mental health resources to students; and to provide for the responsibilities of the Alabama Department of Mental Health and the State Department of Education.”

HB123 passed the Alabama House 102-0. It has been referred to the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee. The committee meets on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. but HB123 is not on the agenda.

Senate Bill 51 is similar to HB123 in that it also authorizes the state to hire 149 mental health coordinators. It is sponsored by Smitherman.

School leaders argue that the state desperately needs more mental health services in schools as many of the children are living in households that are below the poverty line and that many come from broken homes and single-parent families. The pressure on students has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conservative parents argue that the state created many of these problems when they shut schools down and forced students to wear masks.

Tuesday will be day 16 of the 2021 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email