Parents have noticed a steep rise in the frequency and intrusive nature of surveys given to their children at school. Schools are increasingly sacrificing time spent on academic subjects to accommodate the time required to administer student surveys. The justification by school officials usually includes something about “diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, antiracism, social emotional learning and/or school climate.”
These surveys and “screeners” look more like what one might expect to see in a pediatrician’s office, mental health facility, or gender clinic than in a 6th grade classroom. According to parents who have reported these surveys to Parents Defending Education, the surveys often include questions about race, sex, gender identity, and even suicide plans. Even more concerning, the surveys are almost always electronic, meaning the data is stored and shared with and by the outside vendor who conducts the survey.
Below are examples of questions we pulled from surveys given to students in grades 6-12 in schools around the country—children are usually eleven years old when they start 6th grade.
- Have you ever created a suicide plan?
- What is your gender?
- “Do you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, aromantic / asexual, or questioning?”
- At your school, how often are you encouraged to think more deeply about race-related topics with other students at your school?
- How comfortable are you sharing your thoughts about race-related topics with other students at your school?
- How often do students at your school have important conversations about race, even when they might be uncomfortable?
- When there are major events related to race, how often do adults at your school talk about them with students?
- How well does your school help students speak out against racism?
- What do you wish your teachers knew about your experiences of race, ethnicity, or culture at school?
- What is the most important thing your school can keep doing to support students of different races, ethnicities, and cultures?
- How many sexual partners have you had?
Under Federal law, parents have the right to opt their children out of participation in most school surveys. The Pupil Protection Rights Amendment, referred to as the PPRA, guarantees parents the right to review surveys before they are administered to students and to opt their children out of taking them as well.
The PPRA also requires that schools notify parents of surveys and provide a mechanism for parents to opt out. Many schools fail to follow the law (and often, don’t even know what is required of them under federal law) and if they do properly notify parents, it is usually only a day or two before the survey is to be administered, leaving very little time for them to take action. To read a short report on why student surveys should be opt-in instead of opt-out, click here.
There is often a data-share aspect of the survey process in which personally identifiable data collected at school becomes the property of the outside vendor who administers the survey. Ask your school what personally identifiable data will be shared with outside companies and consultants and who owns that information.