By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Attorneys are demanding that a Massachusetts school district cease its practice of requiring students to complete surveys asking overtly intimate and sexually suggestive questions without their parents’ knowledge or written consent.
According to the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, their attorneys have warned the school district about possible violations of the law when they required seventh and eighth grade students at Memorial Middle School in Fitchburg, Massachusetts to complete a survey that contained sexually suggestive questions without the knowledge or consent of parents.
The case was brought to the attention of the Institute by Arlene Tessitore, whose two daughters, were required to complete the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) at school, a survey which asks questions such as “Have you ever tried to kill yourself?”, “Have you ever sniffed glue, or breathed the contents of spray cans, or inhaled any paints?”, and “With how many people have you had sexual intercourse?” Tessitore’s older daughter was also given the Youth Program Survey (YPS), which asks true/false questions about a student’s beliefs about contraception (“I feel comfortable talking with any partner I have about using a condom”) and sexual activity (“I have had oral sex at some point in my life”).
Institute attorneys explained in a news release that the school district’s practice of relying on passive consent for the surveys, by which parents are presumed to have consented if they do not return a particular form, constitutes a violation of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), a federal law intended to protect the privacy of students and the rights of parents to control the circumstances under which their children are exploited for information-gathering.
This law, which covers educational entities that receive federal funds, applies whenever students are asked to submit to any survey, analysis or evaluation that seeks private information about the student, such as political affiliations, sexual activity, illegal activities, or religious beliefs.
” . . . (B)y allowing these surveys to be administered to students without written parental consent, the Fitchburg Public Schools are acting in contravention to the rights of parents and the requirements of federal law,” the Institute writes.
As a result, their attorneys have demanded that school officials immediately adopt and make public a policy that affirms the rights of parents and students and the school district’s commitment to not subject any student to surveys seeking personal information unless their parents provide actual written consent.
“No government official, whether it be a school official or a welfare agency, has the authority to usurp the rights of parents or the right of students to not be exposed to inappropriate, intrusive and sexually suggestive material,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “These rights should certainly not be sacrificed in the quest, no matter how important others might consider it, to mine students for information about their personal thoughts, beliefs or practices.”
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