Dear Calmer Choice Friends,
As you may have seen or heard, recent stories in the Cape Cod Times have reported on concerns and assertions about the Calmer Choice program raised by Michelle Conover, an appointed Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School Committee member.
As outlined in a letter to the Committee from the California-based National Center for Law & Policy on her behalf, Ms. Conover claims that the Calmer Choice program involves Buddhist religious beliefs and practices and therefore should not be taught in public schools because to do so would be in violation of the separation of church and state under the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause.”
The most recent news story on February 6, 2016 focused on references to “Mindfulness-Based-Stress Reduction”, or “MBSR”, on the Calmer Choice website. Ms. Conover expressed concerns that such references have now been removed from the website, and that she viewed this as a “cover-up” and as evidence that the concerns raised in the letter to the Committee were valid. We respectfully disagree. The MBSR references have been removed from our website, but not for the reasons stated by Ms. Conover, and not as a result of the recent news stories. In fact, the website was changed this past December because MBSR is a trademarked program that was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, MA as a stress reduction program for adults with chronic pain and other medical problems. The Calmer Choice instructors, Program Director and Director of School Based Programing are not certified to teach MBSR, and Calmer Choice does not teach the MBSR program. In fact, the references to MBSR were pointed out to us by Ms. Conover in discussions we had with her in November, and we explained to her that they were inadvertently added by volunteers and agreed that they should be removed because Calmer Choice does not teach MBSR. We therefore corrected the website (and some social media references) to be accurate and to clarify our program.
In terms of Ms. Conover’s religious freedom concerns, as those of you familiar with our program know, Calmer Choice is not a religious organization and does not teach any religious beliefs. The Calmer Choice curriculum is exclusively and deliberately secular and does not include any religious practices nor does it require or encourage any religious beliefs. It is based on independent scientific and medical research demonstrating the benefits of mindful attention training in students. Similar types of attention training have been researched and taught across multiple disciplines, including psychiatry, psychology and neurological science. It teaches students skills to increase their ability to focus and pay attention, to calm themselves when upset, and to interact with others in positive and socially acceptable ways.
Current literature demonstrates the positive benefits, safety and appropriateness of school based mindfulness programs. Further, by encouraging the cultivation of positive emotions such as kindness, happiness, appreciation, gratitude, and compassion, students attain skills that have been demonstrated to be protective for youth, potentially increasing emotional resilience, reducing risk factors, and improving health and wellness. Finally, these types of programs, have been advocated by national organizations as well placed in schools.
Indeed, the Calmer Choice program is a long-standing one in many Cape Cod schools. We intend to continue working with schools across the Cape as we have for the past 6 years in order to help students develop these skills to make better choices when dealing with the stressors of everyday life and school.
We believe that public attention should focus on learning what the Calmer Choice program actually does and why it has proven to be beneficial to students. We want everyone to understand that it is based on independent scientific and medical research demonstrating the benefits of mindful attention training in students.
We believe information is the key to better understanding. As such, we are again launching the Calmer Choice speaker’s series that will provide ample opportunity for interested parents and community members to learn more about how Calmer Choice can have a positive impact in the lives of students.
Our first forum will be held on Feb. 16 at Mattacheese Middle School in South Yarmouth and will focus on preventative practices students can use before they find themselves caught in the deadly current of addiction. More information and on this event will be available on our website as well as our Facebook page.
We will keep you posted on any new developments. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 508-398-0808.
Chairman of the Board