Parents Rebel against Explicit Student Surveys

By Savoye, Craig | The Christian Science Monitor, November 1, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Parents Rebel against Explicit Student Surveys

Savoye, Craig, The Christian Science Monitor

It was question No. 70 that floored Tiffany Libardi.

The mother of a sixth-grader, she first heard of the school survey from a fellow parent. All sixth-graders at Schaghticoke Middle School, it turns out, had filled out the survey in gym class Monday.

By Tuesday, many parents - concerned, confused, even livid - began to descend on the school in New Milford, Conn. One parent even pulled her child from the school.

The furor centered on a questionnaire that included 14 queries about student sexual activity. Some were explicit - such as No. 70's detailed query, asking kids if they had ever had oral sex.

"I was ... angry that someone would take my child and decide what is best for them to know," says Ms. Libardi.

Across the United States, more parents are rebelling against teen-behavior surveys that they say are intrusive, inappropriate - and even encourage immoral behavior through suggestive questions.

While backers of the polls say they are useful tools to help communities know what kids are thinking - and how to help them - a growing legion of parents are challenging the surveys. For instance:

* In Ridgewood, N.J., parents filed a federal suit, claiming the school district failed to get their federally mandated approval on a 156-question youth survey. They also persuaded a lawmaker to sponsor preventive legislation that has passed the state Senate.

* In San Antonio, a lawsuit has resulted in the creation of a parent-teacher review board for all counseling initiatives and teen surveys. Now, parental consent is also required for such decisions, and there is a provision for the shredding of all surveys after parents are given an opportunity to review them.

* In Radford, Va., the school board barred a survey with questions about drinking, drug use, and sexual activity, saying it lacked parental support.

Yet surveys have numerous benefits, proponents say. In New Jersey, Virginia, and Ohio, surveys were sponsored by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute. The company says healthy and well-adjusted kids have 40 assets - like a good home life and three square meals a day. It conducts its surveys to find out which assets kids are lacking, then it passes the information along to community members.

More than 1 million children nationwide have been surveyed. Marianne Boyajian, president of the Naperville (Ill.) Home and School Association, is an unabashed convert.

"I'm still sold on the concept," she says, noting that fewer than 10 parents returned forms excusing their children from taking the survey. "It's difficult to explain, but everywhere we go there is a ripple effect. People buy into it, they get involved."

Critics, however, see serious flaws.

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