On July 6, 2021, parents in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, “filed a petition of appeal with the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Controversies and Disputes” regarding a survey that students completed, according to NJ.com. Cedar Grove Schools reportedly gave students in the school district a “Community Needs Assessment” survey in June that “asked students as young as 9 about gender identity, and questions parents said would elicit personal information, such as sexual behavior and attitudes.”
The New Jersey Education Department transferred the complaint to the Office of Administrative Law. Judge Gail Cookson was “the administrative law judge assigned to the case.” On November 15, 2021, she reportedly granted “the parents’ motion for summary decision” and denied “the district’s motion to dismiss, finding that the school district violated the law.” The judge wrote:
The District intended to and did actually seek answers from students, who were not told it was voluntary but only anonymous…on the subjects of gender identity, gender discrimination, and for the older students, religion and religious discrimination, and family demographics
NorthJersey.com reported that “an assistant commissioner at the Department of Education agreed with Administrative Law Judge Gail Cookson that the district had failed to get consent from parents, and the surveys violated the disclosures of certain students on the internet without parental consent.” The news outlet continued to report:
The surveys asked students at all grade levels for their race, ethnicity and gender identity. High school students were asked for family demographics and religion. All the surveys asked whether the students felt safe at school, and whether they felt comfortable going to a teacher or school leader for help. The responses were intended to be anonymous.
A parent reportedly “said the surveys were given to third- and fourth-graders as an assignment and lost some anonymity when students had to ask clarifying questions to teachers.” Superintendent Anthony Grosso also reportedly “presented a PowerPoint on the survey answers at a June board meeting, at which the parents argued the student responses were taken out of context and without their consent.”
Judge Cookson made the decision that the school district “would need to discard the surveys and remove the results from the website, student records, the Ethics, Diversity and Advisory Council records and anywhere else the survey may have been distributed.”
On November 16, 2021, the school district held a board meeting that was abruptly ended after the previously mentioned parent criticized the superintendent and board members. She was the first speaker when the board meeting moved to public comments. Two board members walked off the stage as she spoke about the school district not admitting any wrongdoing, according to TAPinto.net. The concerned parent said:
In the past, as recent as the last Board of Ed meeting, we have not been provided with complete, accurate information, and, in fact, it continues this evening, because Superintendent Grosso’s explanation of Judge Cookson’s ruling was incomplete. And in order for us to grow as a community, we need to acknowledge wrongdoing. In order for us to grow as a community, we need to accurately summarize the events of a judge’s ruling. Parents in this district were forced to bring a legal action against the superintendent and against this board because they issued surveys to our children as young as 9 years old. (Time Stamp: 53:22)
After the two board members walked away, the parent was then interrupted by Board President Christine Dye who said: “Excuse me, I hate to interrupt, but we just lost our quorum, so I need to end the meeting. The meeting is adjourned.” The board meeting was then ended before the parent could finish speaking.
A group of parents later “filed a complaint against three members of the district’s Board of Education with the New Jersey Department of Education School Ethics Commission,” according to TAPinto.net. The three members were Christine Dye and the two board members who walked away as the parent was speaking. The parent who was also part of the group that filed the complaint said:
We continue to explore all legal and other actions against the Board and school district. The Board’s staged walk out during the public comment portion of the meeting to intentionally shut down all public discourse was their latest desperate act to silence parents. Through this act, and others before, they have proven that they have no regard for their ethical obligations as Board Members and no respect for the legal rights of the citizens to whom they are obligated to serve responsibly, ethically, and lawfully. They are unfit for public office and should be punished accordingly.
Parents in Cedar Grove created two short documentaries detailing the events of the school district giving the survey to students and the actions of the district’s school board. The documentaries are titled “The Survey (Part One)” and “The Survey (Part Two).”