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Students Forced to Answer Intimate, Sexually Suggestive Surveys

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Parents’ Rights Violation: Students Forced to Answer Intimate, Sexually Suggestive Surveys Without Parental Knowledge or Written Consent

FITCHBURG, Mass.— The Rutherford Institute is 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. In a letter to the Fitchburg City School Committee, Rutherford Institute attorneys warn that by 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, specifically, the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), a federal law which governs student surveys by educational agencies receiving federal funding.

(Editor's Note: When you read the instructions provided in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it it plain to see parental notification is not mandatory for these underage children to take the survey--it states "should" not "must". "...You also should obtain parent permission for students to participate..".)

The Rutherford Institute’s letter is available at www.rutherford.org.

“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.”

The Rutherford Institute intervened after being contacted by Arlene Tessitore, whose two daughters, in the seventh and eighth grades at Memorial Middle School in Fitchburg, Mass., were administered surveys at school asking overtly intimate and sexually suggestive questions without her knowledge or consent. Both girls 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 point out 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. PPRA, 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. Pointing out that by 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, Institute 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.

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