The below is a follow-up email to the House Education Committee on HB 206 after last week’s public hearing. The HEC will vote on this bill on Tuesday, February 17th at 10:00am. Please email them at HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us
For more information about HB 206, refer to Controversial Non-Academic Materials Given to Students and Controversial Surveys and Questionnaires Need Opt-Out.
Dear Representative Grenier and Honorable members of the House Education Committee,
In my testimony for HB 206 I supplied two examples of instances where NH parents were upset over the content and notification practices of non-academic surveys to their children. One was about the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) distributed to Hollis-Brookline students in 2013. The other was about a survey given to Bedford students last year. Parents felt they were misled about the nature of the survey.
Additional research revealed that the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was distributed at 71 public high schools across New Hampshire in 2013 (the most recent available on the NH DOE website) and is published by the Center for Disease Control.
Participation in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey is tied to federal funding. Prior to 2013 Georgia omitted questions about sexual behavior from the YRBS they administered to high-school students. However, they lost federal funds in 2013 because they did not comply with the Center for Disease Control’s mandates to include those questions.
Because this survey is tied to federal funds, schools have an incentive to minimally reveal the controversial content and to follow poor notification practices. Although the YRBS allows either active or passive parental consent, John Whitehead, President of the Rutherford Institute, argues that this survey falls under the “written consent” category under federal law, Model Notification of Rights Under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), because of the content. He also said, “passive notification is merely a surreptitious way to avoid obtaining written parental consent. And in the end, whether due to the child losing the notification form or forgetting to give it to the parents, parents are often left in the dark, unaware that their children are being subjected to invasive tests.
Two specific New Hampshire incidences are apparently insufficient. I was asked to find additional examples of New Hampshire parents who were upset following their child’s participation in a non-academic survey or questionnaire administered by their school.
There are numerous cases in other states where parents objected to invasive or controversial surveys. In Minnesota parents were upset when students were asked about family members’ behaviors and habits including their alcohol use. Parents of middle-school students in Eliot, Maine were upset with a survey that asked students about sex and the “choking game.” Parents in Cherokee County, Georgia were upset about the explicit questions in a recent risky-behavior survey and said they didn’t know there was an opt-out provision. Similar problems were reported just a year ago in Nashville, TN when another objectionable survey was given to middle-school students without parental notification. Clearly there are a number of controversial non-academic surveys used throughout our education system and parental notification is spotty.
Although I did not find other New Hampshire examples related to surveys in the media, there were other recent examples of schools blatantly failing to notify parents of controversial material. Last spring Manchester elementary students were shown a video about molestation without parental notification. Also last year, Gilford High School parents were not given advanced notice about a controversial novel in the 9th grade English class. Note that these instances occurred well after the changes to RSA 186:11, IX-c were in place. Below is a copy of the email notification given to parents on February 13, 2015 from Exeter High School re the upcoming Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The parent’s name and email address were removed. It is a representative sample of the notification given across NH. Parents are given no specific information about the content to make an informed decision and are not told that participation is optional. Schools are using a notification loop-hole to avoid notifying parents or to escape responsibility for failing to do so.
Clearly the controversial content of non-academic surveys and poor parental notification is a common problem. New Hampshire parents need HB 206 to reinforce federal law and NH’s parental opt-out choice. Please vote HB 206 as Ought to Pass.
Exeter High School is excited to announce that this semester we are partnering with the University of New Hampshire (UNH) to participate in a project that aims to promote healthy relationships among teens. This study is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and involves approximately 30 other schools in New England. We were selected to participate by researchers at UNH given our commitment to promoting healthy relationships amongst our students. As part of this project some students in the school (through Health and Physical Education classes) will participate in educational curriculum on healthy relationships and complete surveys related to peer behavior. Parents of students participating in this project will receive more information about the project with an opportunity to opt out of participation if needed. Faculty and staff will also receive resources and training related to this topic to better support our students. This is a significant opportunity for EHS and we think it will add greatly to all of the important work we are already doing to promote healthy relationships and overall safety throughout our school community.
Stay warm this weekend and help a neighbor in need.
Exeter High School
Correction 2/16/15: The email from Exeter High School’s principal clearly indicates an opt-out choice for parents.