Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What’s a Parent to Do?

To better understand what this post is about, it is recommended that you become familiar with the information in the previous two posts.  This post gives basic information to parents on what to do if their child is going to be administered a survey in school no matter what state they are in.  The focus and links are specific to and for those parents with a child in a grade that will be administered the Healthy Youth Survey in the State of Washington.  

The Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) is administered in the State of Washington to public school students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. This survey is administered every other year . It is scheduled to be administered again in the fall of 2008. The survey appears to be based on the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey that is administered in many other states across the country in odd number years. The kinds of questions asked on these surveys are invasive, intrusive, offensive, inappropriate, and highly suggestive for impressionable youngsters.

Look online at a past survey. You could go to the school or district office and ask to see a copy of the survey. This may irritate the school personnel who may label you as a troublemaker. I would recommend you view a past survey online as a first step. Even if the survey changes, you will get a good sense of what it will be like from what it has been in the past.

Conduct a reality check. Is it okay with you if this survey is administered to your child? Are you comfortable having your child asked these questions? If you are okay and comfortable, then you don’t need to do anything. If you are not okay and are not comfortable with this then I recommend you follow up with some of the other suggestions presented here.  

Check and see if your school district is registered to administer the Healthy Youth Survey. Registered Schools.

Notify your child’s school in writing that your child is not to be administered any surveys, questionnaires, or participate in any activities that ask personal questions about personal beliefs, family life, religious beliefs, attitudes, feelings, sex, drugs, etc.*

Make sure your child is aware of your requests and expectations. You may want to establish a plan and discuss the plan with your child for how he may handle situations that come up where he is asked these kinds of personal questions. One way you could have your child handle this is for them to say something like, “I’ll be glad to answer this, but would you please call my mom or dad and get their permission first?” Provide some practice situations at home.

Find out when the survey is to be given at your child’s school. The school may provide you with a range of days such as between October 13 and October 17. See if you can get a specific date. Even if you do get a specific date, keep in mind that the school may change the survey date without notifying you of the change.

The Parent & Student Information Flyer for Washington states “If you do not want your student to participate in the survey, you can excuse your student from participating by calling or sending a note to the school.” I recommend that you send a formal note to the school specifically requesting that your child be excused from participating in the survey. It may be a good idea for you to hand deliver the note and keep a copy for your records. The school may still misplace, overlook, or ignore your note.

Meet personally with your child’s teacher who will be administering the survey and politely express your concerns. This will not stop the survey from being administered, but if you are lucky the teacher may start to wonder if it is appropriate for these surveys to be administered to students. Please keep in mind that the teachers did not make the decision to administer these surveys.

Keep your child home on survey day.

If you do keep your child home from school on survey day, verify that the survey was administered in your child’s class that day. Verify this through the school, other parents, and students in your child’s class.

Be aware that the school may try to have a “make-up” survey administration for students that were absent on survey day. Prepare your child for how you would like for them to handle this situation if it comes up. These surveys are supposed to be anonymous and not have any identifiers. If a “make-up” is given there will be many fewer students taking the survey at that time, thus making it easier to identify individual students from their survey responses. It is even possible school personnel will pencil in the name of an absent student on the survey cover. This kind of thing should not happen, but unfortunately, it does.

Write letters to the newspaper and bring the issues to the attention of the local TV stations and talk radio hosts.

Sign up to address your local school board at their next meeting. Start off by asking the board members the following questions:

During the past 30 days, on how many days did you use marijuana or hashish (grass, hash, pot)?
Have you ever seriously thought about killing yourself?
How old were you the first time you smoked a whole cigarette?

Let the school board and public in attendance know this is just a sampling of the questions students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 are asked on the Healthy Youth Survey that will be administered between October 13 and 17.

Does your school board know the nature of this survey or are they just a rubber stamp? Are they comfortable with this survey? Do they feel the information gained from this survey outweighs any adverse effects of this survey or objections to this survey? There is a chance your local school board members are not familiar with the true nature of this survey. Provide them with written information expressing your concerns and where more information may be found.

Express your concerns to your state representative. Find a legislator who will sponsor a bill that addresses your concerns.

*Use the following as a guideline for creating state legislation.

Parental Rights: (California Education Coe #51512)

No test, questionnaire, survey, or examination containing any questions about the pupil’s personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion, or any questions about the pupil’s parents’ or guardians’ beliefs and practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion, shall be administered to any pupil in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, inclusive, unless the parent or guardian of the pupil is notified in writing that this test, questionnaire, survey, or examination is to be administered and the parent or guardian of the pupil gives written permission for the pupil to take this test, questionnaire, survey, or examination.

Join an already existing group (local, state, or national) that addresses issues related to education.

Form a local or statewide group to help others become aware of the issues and work towards and acceptable solution to the issues.

Share your thoughts and experiences with others in the comment section.

Key points

View survey
Reality check
Notify school in writing
Communicate with your child
Check survey dates
Express concerns to teacher
Keep child home on survey day
Inform the media of the issues
Address your local school board

*Thanks to From Crayons to Condoms