The conservative group Parents Defending Education flagged FCPS' Department of Special Services' automated voice message, which seemed to say "woke special services." The message was still active as of Thursday afternoon but FCPS says it was actually "Wok," which stands for Willow Oaks, one of their administrative centers.
According to its website, the department is responsible for special education, "psychology services," "social work services," and "student safety and wellness."
Under psychology services, FCPS states: "We collaborate with school teams to foster social-emotional skills and teach resiliency in order to reduce barriers to learning and promote student success."
On Wednesday, Fox News reported on the more than $20 million FCPS was directing toward social-emotional learning and equity training.
Part of that entails an SEL "screener" through Panorama Education, a private contractor that's received investment from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. According to their acceptance agreement, FCPS is paying the company $1,845,660 over the course of five years.
The request for proposal (RFP) for that contract came from the Department of Special Services. That RFP received criticism for stating that "schools operate as the de facto mental health provider in communities throughout the U.S."
It added: "As a result, it is essential that school staff are able to appropriately and proactively identify social-emotional barriers to students' ability to access the academic curriculum."
As part of FCPS' agreement, teachers will purportedly report on K-2 students while students in grades 3-12 will respond to the screener themselves. According to FCPS, the data is primarily intended for "[s]chool administrators, school psychologists, school social workers, and school counselors."
"Social and emotional learning" (SEL) and "culturally responsive" training have become seemingly innocuous buzzwords in Virginia education, but critics have worried that they served as conduits for left-wing ideas about race and identity. FCPS' screener seemed to focus more generally on social behavior and emotional health, but also included some content about race.
"Equity" programs have also come under fire for resemblances to critical race theory and its associated ideas. On its website, Panorama promotes "powerful words" describing equity as integral to SEL. "If you are talking about social-emotional learning but not equity, you are not talking about SEL," reads the quote from Dr. Lorenzo Moore, who spoke during Panorama's September 2020 virtual meet-up.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that the voicemail in question says "Wok special services," referring to Willow Oaks, according to FCPS.