Controversial Surveys and Questionnaires Need Opt-Out

Schools routinely ask students to complete surveys and non-academic questionnaires. Usually they are part of state or federal programs to assess students’ attitudes, values, decision-making, and behaviors. However, the intrusiveness and nature of these surveys are not fully disclosed to parents to make a informed decision about their student’s participation.

For example, middle-school students in Florida were asked about their thoughts on a variety of political issues including school prayer, expanded health and social programs, and immigration. In Maryland, high school students were asked about their parents’ political affiliations, their thoughts on Second Amendment issues, as well as their religion and sexual orientation.

These surveys are controversial and parents may or may not wish their under-age children to participate. Please support HB 206 and respect parents’ rights to direct their children’s education.

This bill is fully consistent New Hampshire RSA 186:11, IX-c which reads,

IX-c. Require school districts to adopt a policy allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent’s or legal guardian’s determination that the material is objectionable. Such policy shall include a provision requiring the parent or legal guardian to notify the school principal or designee in writing of the specific material to which they object and a provision requiring an alternative agreed upon by the school district and the parent, at the parent’s expense, sufficient to enable the child to meet state requirements for education in the particular subject area. The name of the parent or legal guardian and any specific reasons disclosed to school officials for the objection to the material shall not be public information and shall be excluded from access under RSA 91-A.

HB 206 is also consistent with past legislative intent to keep dispositions — values, attitudes, and beliefs — out of assessments and standards (SB 192 in 2011 and SB 82 in 2013).

HB 206 is also consistent with the Model Notification of Rights Under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). (Bold words are for emphasis and not part of the original text.)

PPRA affords parents of elementary and secondary students certain rights regarding the conduct of surveys, collection and use of information for marketing purposes, and certain physical exams.  These include, but are not limited to, the right to:

  • Consent before students are required to submit to a survey that concerns one or more of the following protected areas (“protected information survey”) if the survey is funded in whole or in part by a program of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) –
    1. Political affiliations or beliefs of the student or student’s parent;
    2. Mental or psychological problems of the student or student’s family;
    3. Sex behavior or attitudes;
    4. Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior;
    5. Critical appraisals of others with whom respondents have close family relationships;
    6. Legally recognized privileged relationships, such as with lawyers, doctors, or ministers;
    7. Religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent; or
    8. Income, other than as required by law to determine program eligibility.
  • Receive notice and an opportunity to opt a student out of –
    1. Any other protected information survey, regardless of funding;
    2. Any non-emergency, invasive physical exam or screening required as a condition of attendance, administered by the school or its agent, and not necessary to protect the immediate health and safety of a student, except for hearing, vision, or scoliosis screenings, or any physical exam or screening permitted or required under State law; and
    3. Activities involving collection, disclosure, or use of personal information collected from students for marketing or to sell or otherwise distribute the information to others. (This does not apply to the collection, disclosure, or use of personal information collected from students for the exclusive purpose of developing, evaluating, or providing educational products or services for, or to, students or educational institutions.)
  • Inspect, upon request and before administration or use
    1. Protected information surveys of students and surveys created by a third party;
    2. Instruments used to collect personal information from students for any of the above marketing, sales, or other distribution purposes; and
    3. Instructional material used as part of the educational curriculum.

Several New Hampshire school districts have distributed questionable surveys and questionnaires to students without explicit parental authorization. In November 2013 a Hollis-Brookline parent submitted a letter to the local paper when she received an outrageous reply from a school board member about her concern. She was upset when her high school student received an intrusive survey titled the NH Youth Risk Behavioral Survey. The reply from one of the school board members was shocking and exceptionally rude. Not only was this school board member dismissive of the parent’s concerns, she suggested that parents receive a penalty if they don’t follow the school board’s rules.

In spring 2014 Bedford middle school students were given a objectionable survey without prior parental consent. This survey was titled Profiles of Student Life, Attitudes, and Behavior. Several of the questions asked about sexual activity and preferences, suicide, drug use, and physical abuse. At the time parents were given an opt-out, not an opt-in choice. They also were misled about the nature of the survey. It took several Right to Know requests to finally receive a copy of the survey.

At the public hearing, a few parents raised concerns about the anonymity and access of the surveys. They also said that the sample questions did not fully reflect the content of the questionnaires.

Those opposed to the bill said that parents are already sufficiently informed and that giving an opt-in would severely limit the participation. In other words, if parents knew what was asked their children, too many would opt-out.

Rep. James Grenier (Sullivan district 7) did not think that two well-documented NH instances of parental outrage was sufficient. He requested additional evidence. How many instances are enough — three, six, a dozen?

Clearly parents are not given full knowledge about the dispositional and controversial non-academic materials given to their students. Parents’ rights to direct their children’s education must be respected. Please contact the House Education Committee and ask them to vote HB 206 as Ought to Pass and allow parents a voice in their children’s education. The entire House Education Committee can be emailed at HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us

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