4/17/12 School board discusses allowing students to be surveyed

School board discusses allowing students to be surveyed
Members would approve topics before they’re presented
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 4/17/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   Alamance-Burlington Board of Education members discussed during a Monday work session whether it is appropriate to allow students to be surveyed about potentially sensitive topics.

   The discussion was part of a lengthy review the board has been conducting with its attorney and system administrators about changes and additions to policies.

   Board member Tony Rose argued against allowing surveys of students on certain topics. Other board members said the surveys could, in some cases, have at least potentially beneficial results. They noted parental approval would be required and said the proposed policy puts mechanisms in place to decide whether to allow the surveys on a case-by-case basis.

   The categories singled out in the proposed policy are:   

  • “political affiliations or beliefs of the student or student’s parent.”   
  • “mental and psychological problems of the student or student’s family.”   
  • “sexual behavior and attitudes.”   
  • “illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating or demeaning behavior.”   
  • “critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships.”   
  • “privileged relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians and ministers.”   
  • “religious practices, affiliations or beliefs of the student or student’s parent.”   
  • “income (other than required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).”

   A draft of the policy presented to the board Monday by attorney Trey Allen said the school board would be responsible for approving surveys that include questions on one or more of those topics. That changed following board discussion to give the superintendent or another administrator initial review of survey requests, with the board retaining final approval if a survey request gets an administrator’s recommendation.

   Angela Duncan, the system’s assistant superintendent of school improvement, said the system has received two requests for surveys including one of the topics since October. Both requests were related to the “sexual behavior and attitudes” category, she said, and were denied. Duncan said the decisions were based on weighing the time and effort required against potential benefits to students.

   Besides listing categories, the proposed policy suggests that surveys be allowed “when the proposed research is likely to result in improved services to students without detracting from the educational mission of the school.”

   Board chairwoman Jackie Cole suggested information from surveys could be useful in areas such as preventing teen pregnancy or drug abuse, “as long as we have barriers built in for parent approval” and a review by the school system itself. Board member Steve Van Pelt voiced similar thoughts.

   In some cases, school system administrators have said, there could be the potential to receive grant money in connection with a survey. Board member Mary Erwin mentioned that possibility Monday, while Kristen Moffitt said health-related research could include questions in one or more of the categories.

   Rose questioned whether students could accurately provide information in some areas, such as family income.    Board member Patsy Simpson had strongly objected to allowing students to be surveyed about potentially sensitive topics during a previous work session. She was absent from Monday’s meeting. Brad Evans, the board’s vice chairman, was also absent.

   The proposed policy will be on the agenda at future meetings before board members vote on whether to approve it. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the school system’s office at 1712 Vaughn Road in Burlington.