Shrewsbury, Mass., school officials are defending as a vital way to stay informed about health risks a survey passed out to 11- and 12-year-olds that included questions about oral sex.
But the father of one 12-year-old student said his daughter is too young to be asked how many oral sex partners she’s had.
“This is not something for the schools,” said outraged dad Mark Fisher. “This is something between parents and children, not children and teachers. It seems like parents are purposely kept in the dark about this.”
School committee President Deborah Peeples said parents were allowed to view the survey ahead of time, but were not able to take a copy home to review before their children answer it.
“It might be misinterpreted or misunderstood or they could use it to direct their children’s responses,” she said. “The responses we get here are very accurate.”
Fisher would not allow his daughter to take the survey and is asking the schools to change their policy about how it is issued. Parents now must request their child not be given the survey. Fisher wants schools to require parental permission before it is issued.
Shrewsbury students in grades 6, 8, 9 and 11 took part in the survey. The state Department of Education randomly selected high schools to participate in every odd-numbered year.
The survey contains questions about alcohol and tobacco use, sexual behaviors, dietary behaviors and other issues. The state Department of Education compiles the information to see what issues are affecting students to plan health education and risk-prevention programs.
School districts that participate in the survey can add and delete questions. Results from a particular school district are not made public. Shrewsbury was among 59 districts chosen this year to participate in the survey.
Peeples said the district changed the survey for the sixth-graders to contain only one question on oral sex. She said that next fall parents will be able to see the survey and discuss it.
Fisher called the changes a “smokescreen.”
“My concern is that the whole survey is especially inappropriate for sixth- and eighth-graders as it implicitly endorses these behaviors,” Fisher said. “The survey seems to say it’s OK to do this stuff, we just need to know how many times you do it and with whom.”
Peeples said the survey at all levels helps faculty reform curriculum to address issues with students. She said some of the questions in the district’s survey were about the use of tanning beds and eating habits.
According to Fisher, the high school survey included questions about sexual intercourse and the number of partners a student had.
“It gets worse and worse as the kids get older,” he said.
High school principal Daniel E. Gutekanst said those questions are appropriate at the high school level and they help provide information to aid policy makers about adolescent behaviors.
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