Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
A legal team that provides representation in cases when civil rights are being threatened is demanding answers from a Massachusetts school district where officials allegedly required children to answer questions from outside survey organizations regarding condoms, their experiences with “oral sex” and whether they ever have sniffed glue.
Officials with the school did not respond to a WND request for comment, but according to John Whitehead, chief of the Rutherford Institute, “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.”
He said, “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.”
Rutherford wrote a letter to the Fitchburg City School Committee warning that by allowing such surveys to be administrated to students without written parental consent, the district is “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.”
The Rutherford Institute intervened after being contacted by Tessitore, whose two daughters, in the seventh and eighth grades at Memorial Middle School in Fitchburg, were given surveys at school asking overtly intimate and sexually suggestive questions without her knowledge or consent.
The organization said the girls were required to complete the Youth Risk Behavior Survey 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?”
“With how many people have you had sexual intercourse?”
Tessitore’s older daughter also was 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”).
The school’s practice, according to the attorneys, apparently was to presume that parents have consented if they did not return a particular form, but that violates the PPRA.
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.
The letter noted one of the surveys was conducted by LUK Inc., an outside social services agency. The other was done by Prohealth, which had been invited to the school.
“In neither case did Ms. Tessitore provide consent to these outside agencies prior to their seeking to administer these surveys to her daughters, even though parental consent is mandated by federal law,” the letter said.
“It is clear that that school officials, in exposing students to inappropriate and highly intrusive questionnaires without their parents’ knowledge or consent, have been complicit in evading the requirements of parental consent and violating the privacy right of families with students in the Fitchburg schools. This unlawful practice must cease immediately,” the letter said.
The surveys even involved an effort to intimidate students who objected, the letter said.
The 7th-grade daughter was “attempting to be excused from the test and bringing the ‘voluntary’ nature of it to the attention of the administrators,” but “was told to sit down and take the survey,” the letter said.
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