A California school is being accused of violating a number of laws regarding student privacy and parental notification for allowing a reporter access to children to quiz them about their sexual activities and then publish the results, including quotes from minors.
The issue in the Fresno Unified School District was outlined in a letter the Pacific Justice Institute sent to district officials just days ago.
The student interrogations, approved by school officials, were conducted by Mackenzie Mays of the Fresno Bee.
A state law mandates medically accurate, unbiased sex education, including lessons on contraception, HIV and sexual consent, the newspaper said.
The questions included age, where students learned the most about sex, whether they were taught about abortion, the LGBTQ agenda, how to get condoms and whether they have had sex.
But Pacific Justice calls for “disciplinary action against any FUSD personnel that permitted” the survey, apologies to parents, a retraction by the Bee of the story, a re-evaluation of the district’s media relationships, a review of policies and new training in the law.
“Both state and federal law require that parents be notified and given an opportunity to object before surveys are given to students that probe their beliefs or practices in areas such as sex, religion, politics, or family life,” PJI reported.
But the lawyers said parents reported no such attempt was made.
“Despite the dubious manner in which answers to the surveys were obtained, the Bee published the results of the survey, and even quoted several minor students by name, on October 20,” the institute said.
And it noted that the school’s failure “could lead to severe consequences such as the loss of federal funding.”
“Convincing a school district to allow the violation of student privacy and parental rights in order to sell newspapers is a new low for the mainstream media,” said Brad Dacus, PJI president.
“These laws exist to protect family privacy, and they were blatantly disregarded. We expect a genuine apology to parents and a genuine commitment to change in order for the district to avoid further legal consequences.”
The legal team’s letter to the school points out, “Although the article maintains that the survey results were anonymous, the article quotes several of the minors by name without mentioning whether these minors were interviewed on FUSD sites, or whether parental consent was obtained.
“The article further states that permission was obtained from the school district for the survey. Less apparent at this point is the exact role FUSD teachers or staff played in facilitating or administering the survey, the degree to which it was distributed on campus, and its interference with instruction or other pedagogical activities during the school day.”
The letter continues: “A thorough investigation … is needed to clarify the scope of the misconduct and intrusion. The parents we have heard from were not notified about the survey. Had they been notified, they would have denied permission for their minor children to participate.”
The letter notes that California Education Code Section 51513 requires that “no test, questionnaire, survey, or examination containing any questions about the personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion, or any questions about the pupil’s parents’ or guardians’ beliefs and practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion, shall be administrated to any pupil in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12 … unless the parent or guardian … is notified in writing.”
The parent or guardian must grant permission, the law states.
There also are similar requirements in federal law, the lawyers explain.
“The zealous vigilance of both federal and state law for student privacy must be mirrored at the local level,” they write. “Commercial enterprises like the Bee do not get a pass to violate student privacy; if anything, their purpose of publicizing to the greatest extent possibly whatever information they obtain should prompt the district to exercise greater caution – not less – when fielding media requests.”