4/24/12 School board approves survey policy in split vote

School board approves survey policy in split vote
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 4/24/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   In a split vote, the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education moved forward with a policy that spells out when and how students may be surveyed about potentially sensitive topics.

   Board members Jackie Cole, Mary Erwin, Brad Evans, Kristen Moffitt and Steve Van Pelt voted in favor of the policy, with Tony Rose and Patsy Simpson voting against it. During a Monday night meeting, the board approved the policy on what’s known as “first reading,” meaning one more approval is required before it goes into effect. Typically, the board takes a second vote the following month.

   In addition to parental approval, the policy requires the superintendent or another administrator as well as the school board to approve surveys that ask questions about potentially sensitive topics. Those include:

  • 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.

Rose and Simpson have objected to the system allowing students to be questioned on those topics. “I just think it’s an invasion of privacy,” Rose reiterated Monday night. Moffitt, a pediatrician, has said the questions could be part of studies that help the school system or others address health-related issues. “Over the weekend, I read two studies that were based on surveys,” she said. Asked by Simpson why the school system should be an entry point for access to students, Moffitt said the large number of students provides a “good cross-section” of young people from different background and circumstances.

   Van Pelt suggested eliminating requiring final approval from the board for a survey including one of the topics.

   “I think it’s somewhat redundant,” he said. “I’m fine with leaving it with the superintendent or the designee.”

   Van Pelt said the infrequent number of requests for surveys, based on information previously provided by system administrators, was a factor in his opinion.

   The requirement stayed in after Moffitt spoke up in favor of leaving it, “given the sensitive nature” of some survey topics.

   “I agree,” Evans said.

   The policy says potential benefits should outweigh time and effort involved in allowing a survey.