Passive vs. Active Parental Consent
- K–12 school districts are increasingly administering deeply personal surveys that question students about everything from sexual orientation and gender identity to thoughts of suicide.
- Federal law identifies eight areas of protected information, including political affiliation and sex behavior. The law requires that parents be notified before students submit this kind of information and be granted the ability to opt their child out of participating in this data collection. Still, districts sometimes fail to notify parents of the opt-out provision and are not sufficiently transparent about the questionnaires they are administering.
- Federal or state legislators should take action to allow students’ parents to opt-in rather than opt-out of surveys that deal with these protected areas to ensure parents are fully aware of the information about their children that districts are collecting and storing.
Student surveys have become ubiquitous in schools under the broad umbrellas of “social-emotional learning, “school climate” and “inclusion.” The surveys and “screeners” that students are increasingly asked to fill out at school look more like those one would expect to see in a pediatrician’s office, mental health facility, or gender clinic than what one might presume they would find in a sixth-grade classroom. According to parents who have reported these surveys to Parents Defending Education, the surveys often include questions about sex, gender identity, and even suicide plans.1 Perhaps even more concerning, the surveys are usually electronic, meaning these data are easily stored and shared.
Under federal law, parents must be notified of their right to opt their children out of any surveys that address eight specific “protected areas” concerning personal information about students or their families. Yet, despite the growing ubiquity of surveys that touch on these areas, many parents remain unaware of the content of these questionnaires or the existence of an opt-out provision—often because the school fails to notify parents of the survey and/or does not provide any information about how to opt-out.
The surveys should be opt-in instead of opt-out.