A school district in Massachusetts that was accused of demanding children fill out secret sex surveys to gather data for social services agencies in a quest for grants has decided to back off of the practice, according to a team of legal experts.
Word on the “victory for parental rights” came today from the Rutherford Institute, which wrote officials in the Fitchburg, Mass., district expressing concern over the practice and then followed up with a formal complaint.
“This is a huge victory for parental rights,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute. “Parents are the ones who should decide whether they want their children to be mined for information about their personal thoughts, beliefs or practices. We take it seriously when government officials try to short-circuit that essential parent-child relationship.”
Rutherford officials said the Fitchburg School Committee recently adopted a new policy that will allow students to be given intrusive surveys only after their parents have given their written consent. The change brings the school into compliance with the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment by eliminating the school’s previous practice of assuming the parents consented if they didn’t specifically object.
The Institute had written a letter to Fitchburg officials in April warning that giving the inappropriate surveys violated the rights of parents and the federal law.
After getting no response from the school, Rutherford filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.
At issue were several surveys given to students. They included questions such as “I have had oral sex at some point in my life.”
The letter to Ellen Campbell of the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office from Rita Dunaway, representing the Rutherford Institute, said parents “send their children to public schools to receive an education; not to become subjects of governmental data mining.”
“In every instance, it should be left to the parents, who know and love their children best, to decide whether the purposes and goals of proposed surveys warrant the associated intrusion upon their children’s privacy and the potential desensitization of their children to sensitive subjects. This was clearly the collective intent of Congress in passing the Pupil Privacy Rights Amendment, and the circumvention of that law by the Fitchburg School Committee and Memorial Middle School must be stopped immediately,” Dunaway wrote.
WND had reported when Arlene Tessitore expressed concern after her two young daughters were told by the school to answer questions about their experience with condoms and oral sex, and whether they ever had sniffed glue.
School authorities did not respond to a WND request for comment.
But the case documentation shows Tessitore’s two minor daughters, in 7th and 8th grades, on Feb. 2 “were told by their respective teachers, Mr. Mike Petrides and Mr. Mike Jacobs, to complete the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). Mrs. Tessitore was unaware that the survey was being administered at school.”
One of the daughters asked to be excused since the test was labeled “voluntary,” but “Mr. Petrides instructed her to sit down and complete the survey anyway.” The other daughter was told to “complete the survey” and then take up her concerns with the school counselor.
“Both girls were deeply disturbed by the content of the survey and the fact that they were effectively coerced to participate in it, and for good reason,” the letter says. “The questions asked in the survey included: ‘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?’”
Then there was another survey given in March.
“This survey was administered by an agency called ProHealth, which had been invited into the school by school officials, and it contained intrusive and inappropriate true/false questions similar to those asked in the YRBS,” the Rutherford Institute explained.
“When Mrs. Tessitore’s eighth-grade daughter stated that she would not complete the survey, her teacher took her outside the classroom and inquired as to her reasons for not wanting to participate,” the letter said.
The teacher of that class then announced a survey of her own, asking the same questions, and called the school’s guidance office to complain about the student.
“It is clear that children in Fitchburg, Mass., … are effectively being exploited for data by social services agencies in a quest for federal funds that violates both specific federal statutes and more general constitutional protections of parental rights and personal privacy,” the letter accused.