One of my duties as the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Policy Research, is to support parental rights in education. We’ve seen the slow erosion of parental rights over the years and that has caused many parents to either withdraw their children from public schools or “tolerate” this problem until their children graduate. No one should tolerate or be forced out of their public school, especially since they fund these institutions.
That is why I began looking at the problems with the invasive “surveys” children were being given in their public schools. These are the kinds of surveys you never see in private schools where respect for parents is a priority.
In Bedford, where I reside, parents were angry over a recent survey given to their children that included invasive questions on sex, drugs, gender identity, sexual preference etc. When I asked to see the survey, that request was denied. Eventually the questions were made public due to media pressure.
With the lack of transparency and the controversial questions asked of children, we saw a disregard for parental rights.
Over the last several years, there has been legislation introduced that would require written consent from parents when non-academic surveys are given to students. Opponents to parental rights have argued that there is already a federal law in place to protect the students and parents.
The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment is a federal law that seeks to ensure that schools and contractors obtain written parental consent before minor students are required to participate in any ED-funded survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning:
Mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student and his/her family;
Sex behavior and attitudes;
Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating and demeaning behavior;
Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
Legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers; or
Income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).
(Source: Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ppra/index.html)
One would think that with a federal law in place, parents would be protected. Unfortunately that’s not the case.
During testimony on HB206, we heard how school administrators found loopholes in the federal law. For instance, if the survey is “voluntary,” Bedford’s Superintendent said they do not have to seek parental consent. The Rutherford Institute has argued that this is a problem since many children will see these surveys as “tests” and think they have no choice but to fill them out.
The federal law also applies to federal money. If the school is paying a private company to survey students on “risky behavior,” federal money may not be involved. This creates another loophole to dismiss parental rights and transparency.
HB206 was signed in to law but it only requires notifying parents about an upcoming survey. While this was a step in the right direction, everyone knows that many parents are not getting the notifications.
HB206 also required a “study committee,” to look at this problem and make recommendations on future legislation.
The committee heard from a parent and school board member in New Hampshire who told them about how a teacher in her district conducted an invasive survey. In spite of the claims that these are anonymous, this teacher had students stand up and move forward or backward based on their answers. Children were asked about their sexual behavior, gender identity, drug usage, and the entire class saw their answer based on whether they stepped forward or backward.
So much for privacy protections.
Several New Hampshire bureaucrats like Anna Thomas, Deputy Public Health Director City of Manchester Health Dept. talked about why it would be a logistical problem to ask parents for their consent before surveying children. Some of the legislators questioned this reasoning since schools have no problem asking for consent when they take children on field trips.
The bureaucrats then talked about how they rely upon federal grant money and that they were concerned the participation rate would fall if parental consent was required. In other words, to keep the money flowing, they need to deny parents their fundamental rights.
Today the study committee took a vote on whether to support Rep. Ladd’s recommendation to add language to current state law that would support parental rights by requiring written consent.
This would be a step in the right direction to close the federal loopholes that have been abused by school administrators in an attempt to keep parents in the dark. The committee voted 6 to 1 to support this important amendment.
It’s important to note that this vote is a “recommendation” to the legislators, it was not an official vote to pass legislation. The next step will be to fully support parental rights by supporting Rep. Ladd’s amendment.
Here is how the committee members voted.
Senator Kevin Avard -(R) (Chair) YES
Representative Rick Ladd- (R) YES
Rep. Jack Balcom -(R) YES
Rep. Ken Weyler -(R) YES
Rep. Terry Wolf – (R) NO
Rep. Mary Gile -(D) YES
Rep. Barbara Shaw -(D) YES
Rep. Terry Wolf (R) from Bedford was the only legislator to vote against parental rights. She did not support Bedford parents as a school board member when they asked for “written consent” as a school district policy.
As a parental rights advocate and a Bedford resident, I am continually dismayed at Rep. Wolf’s disregard for parental rights when it comes to invasive surveys.
I would like to personally thank the other legislators who took their time to look at this issue in depth, listen to parental concerns, note the focus on federal dollars over parental rights, and see the need to close the loopholes that exist in the federal law.
As this recommendation moves forward, it will be important for parents to support this amendment by Rep. Rick Ladd. The taxpayer funded bureaucrats will be there to ague against parents. You can count on it.
Ann Marie Banfield currently volunteers as the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire. She has been researching education reform for over a decade and actively supports parental rights, literacy and academic excellence in k-12 schools. You can reach her at: [email protected]