Roy High School teacher Candace Thurgood says she has been giving the same “Know Thyself” quiz to students in her “Adult Roles and Financial Literacy” class for years without complaint, but the questionnaire first published in a 1981 Dear Abby column is not playing so well this year.
Thurgood was removed from the classroom and placed on leave from Utah’s Weber School District after parents learned of the class exercise where respondents are asked about their sexual histories and drug and alcohol abuse. The 30 questions are scored to give students points, which are added up on a scale, ranging from “A nerd – just where you should be at your age,” to “Pure as Ivory soap and maybe a fruitcake,” “Passionate but sensible,” “Normal and decent,” “Indecent,” “Headed for serious trouble,” “Already there,” and “Hopeless and condemned.”
“I was in shock. I couldn’t believe something like this was handed out to students,” parent Heather Miller, who called the survey invasive, judgmental and homophobic, told the Salt Lake Tribune.
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These were some of the “shock” questions:
- Ever gone out with a member of the opposite sex?
- Ever been kissed against your will?
- Do you smoke pot?
- Have you (your girl) ever had an abortion?
- Even though you are straight would you go kinky to see what it’s like?
- Ever stolen money to buy drugs?
Thurgood, who has been with the school for 20 years, gave the survey to juniors as part of a lesson in risky dating behavior, school officials said, adding they did not believe there was any malicious intent. The class covers human sexuality and requires students to have parental permission, but the contentious survey was not part of the official curriculum.
“It’s just alarming,” Miller said. “I really was concerned about the amount of kids who could take something like this, and it would really get to them, just like it did with my daughter.”
“It’s just bizarre,” Miller said. “I told my daughter not to turn it in.”
Miller’s daughter, Olivia, 16, told her mother responding to the quiz was required to get a grade, but former students who spoke out in defense of Thurgood said the survey’s answers were anonymous.
Noting she still had her copy of the survey, former student Emily Shelton told KSTU News that Thurgood was a positive teacher who had helped many of her students.
“She doesn’t deserve all of what she’s getting,” Shelton said. “You really have to know her, that she would not mean any of this in hurtful or bad way.”
Kayla Kohl, also a former Roy High School student, echoed Shelton’s praise.
“Ms. Thurgood is out-of-the-world awesome, I loved her,” she said. “She’s honestly an amazing teacher.”
“I honestly didn’t think anything of it,” she said of the quiz. “I knew it was anonymous. We didn’t have to do it. She still gave us points.”
District and school officials issued a public apology earlier this week, saying the survey was inappropriate, mistakes were made and they had been unaware of the questionaire.
“[We] want to extend our sincere apology to the students who were asked to complete this questionnaire, as well as their parents and we assure you this survey will not be used in the future.
“While the course itself contains instruction in human sexuality to which parents consented, the survey that was distributed to students elicited information about sexually explicit activities and delinquent behavior, and parental consent was not obtained for this particular set of questions, as is required by state and federal law,” it said.
At least some of the opposition seemed to center on the judgmentalism of the students’ ratings more than on the invasion of privacy or the questions’ intrusiveness.
Saying the quiz stigmatized students, University of Utah sociology Prof. Claudia Geist told the Tribune the survey was “outrageous and creates a hostile environment for the students. Kids will find ways to be cruel to each other; they don’t need teachers to help them.”
Complaining parent Miller expressed her concern over the labeling that went along with the behavior scores saying her daughter was “very upset” with her score.
District officials pointed to federal and state laws that bar surveys of student sexual behaviors or illegal behavior.