Letter: Healthy Kids Survey questions are reckless
It began with a weekly newsletter from my son’s sixth-grade teacher. The typical updates: what to expect for the week, student action items, etc. There was an attachment to the email called “Parent Form Opt OUT_passive consent.” I didn’t even open it and went on with my day. Bad on me.
Then, a conversation with a parent suggested I take a closer look at the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey being sent to sixth- to 12th graders across the state. On the surface, it is an important survey about student health and behavior. Most of the questions are very applicable and apposite.
However, some of the questions are unequivocally out of line for kids as young as 11 years old. Survey transparency seems to be lacking, so here is a paraphrased snapshot of some of the questions: Have you ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when you did not want to? Have you ever forced someone to have sex with you when you knew they did not want to? How old were you when you first had sex (listing 8 years old and up as choices)? That’s just the start.
I’m not naive. I was not a noble teenager. I personally made many, many mistakes along the way that I’m not proud of. Most of us have done things we regret during our youth. However, this invasive and suggestive questioning at such impressionable ages is reckless.
It’s important to understand: Colorado law is met when parents/guardians are informed (emailed) that the student has been asked to participate in a survey and given the option to opt the child out of participation, also known as “passive consent.” Therefore, unless you submit a signed “opt-out” form, your child will be given the survey in the next few weeks if they haven’t already. After reaching out to my son’s class via email, many parents had no idea and were extremely appreciative.
When I corresponded with the Eagle County School Board showing them some of the questions, I was discouraged even further. Although Superintendent Philip Qualman had reservations about some of the survey, he deflected the responsibility to the state despite that the “opt-out” form confirms the project has been approved by our school district. He further stated that board members had not expressed to him any issues with the survey but were welcomed to reply to me directly if they had any concerns. Michelle Stecher replied, “I have no issue with the survey and fully support the district and individual school participation.” As of this writing, no one else has responded.
Our state leadership owns most of this. Shame on them at every level between Eagle County Schools and the state. There is no reason that this survey should be put in front of any sixth grader in its current format. However, that does not absolve the responsibilities of any complacent school board member or administrators who we have entrusted with the most important people in our lives. The more disturbing piece is that if this is considered “normal” by so many at all levels of our educational system, what else are they putting in front of our kids?