Rankin: Sex, religion and your high school
What is going on in your local school these days? Whether online or in-person, taxpayers, parents, school board members, teachers, principals, and superintendents need to need to know what’s going on and know the law.
Recently Aspen High School parents brought a serious problem to my attention.
The principal and several teachers formed an “Equity Team.” They explained it was to help them address the “complex issue of equity.” No parents or community stakeholders were included on the team. The team developed a survey that included questions of a private, personal nature and made it a required assignment. Class time was allowed for the survey to be completed and submitted. Students were instructed to submit their work anonymously.
The 40-question multiple choice survey included:
“I identify as ….” and the students could choose one of the following: “male, female, transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, gender expansive, or I prefer not to answer.”
Another question wanted to know how a student identified sexually, “I am… Heterosexual, Bisexual, Gay/Lesbian, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, or I prefer not to answer.”
Another question asks: “With what religious background, if any, do you most identify?” There were 24 choices in this category.
The survey also asks the educational experience of your parents or guardians.
Other questions include: “How do you rate Aspen High School based on your direct experiences? Racist or non-racist?” (The team used the term anti-racist.) “How would you rate Aspen High School based on your direct experiences? Homophobic or non-homophobic?” (The team again used the term “anti”-homophobic).
When the survey was brought to my attention, I immediately contacted the district superintendent. He had not been aware of the survey until several parents brought it to his attention. I then consulted Colorado School Laws and a lawyer.
Colorado law is very specific. A “school district employee who requires participation in a survey … shall obtain the written consent of a student’s parent or legal guardian … whether the information is personally identifiable or not, concerning …sexual behavior and attitudes … religious practices, affiliations or beliefs.”
It is clear that the principal and teachers at this school broke the law. Even if a survey is anonymous, parents must be notified and give permission before it is assigned to the students.
The survey was given online. The students’ answers remain with the company administering the survey and collecting the information. Google Classroom was the vehicle used. The teacher provided a code for the student to access the assignment. Where do the answers now reside? Can it be traced back to the school, teacher and individual class? How will this information be used in the future? Who paid for the survey? How much did the survey and any subsequent analysis cost?
There are still unanswered questions. Parents have a right to know the answers. Could this happen again? Is it happening currently in other Colorado schools? Colorado has laws to protect students. However, taxpayers, parents, school board members, teachers, principals and superintendents, also have a responsibility.
Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District. She writes the monthly column Across the Street to share with constituents in the 29 counties she represents. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol.