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Nosy Questionnaire Invades New Jersey Students' Privacy
RIDGEWOOD, NJ - "Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors," a nosy questionnaire developed in 1996 by the Search Institute of Minneapolis, Minnesota, has surfaced in New Jersey. Parents in the Ridgewood School District are outraged that this privacy-invading survey was given to children in grades 7-12 last October without their consent.

During the past two years, Education Reporter has received documentation that "Profiles of Student Life" was given to students at the White Salmon Columbia High School in the state of Washington, and to students in the DePew Union Free School District in Depew, New York, among others.

In Ridgewood, the survey was administered at two middle schools and a high school at the request of the city's "Vision Team," a group of 15 school district officials, community agency employees, and Village Council members. The questionnaire grills students about their personal and family lives, illegal drug and alcohol use, sexual behavior, racial biases, and religious, moral and ethical beliefs. (See sample questions.)

The school district sent a letter home with students in September warning that the survey would be given, but some parents claim the notification was "very general," "vague," and unclear about the test date. They say the fact that no written consent was required violates their rights under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). At least one parent, Carol Nunn, has indicated her intention to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. She told the New Jersey Bergen Record (12-09-99) that "I'm going to protect my daughter's civil rights because the Ridgewood school district has taken them away."

In a "Letter to the Editor" published in the Record on Nov. 30, parent Frances Edwards called the school district's handling of the survey "coercive," and said it was "undertaken using deceptive tactics." She wrote that the board of education had teachers misrepresent the "nature of the survey" to students "so that they would all agree to take it."

Edwards observed that "Profiles of Student Life" isn't about "children as people," but about children "as data for a social service industry" that uses it as a means of obtaining grant money from foundations and government. (The Ridgewood survey was funded by a grant from the federal Goals 2000 program.)

U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Melinda Malico was quoted by the Bergen Record (12-09-99) as saying that her agency "would investigate any complaint" by parents alleging that the survey was a violation of the PPRA.

While Ridgewood district officials insist that the questionnaire was "voluntary," students who were absent were forced to make it up when they returned. District Superintendent Frederick J. Stokley admitted that "no students declined to respond to the poll." A sample of the survey was said to be available to parents on school premises.

Some observers say that, with its use of the "Profiles" survey and a curriculum called "Open Circle," the Ridgewood school district typifies the move in education toward emotional learning as opposed to academic learning. "The trend is to profile kids according to their 'tolerance' behavior, which 'Open Circle' is designed to show," explains New Jersey pro-family leader Carolee Adams. "On the surface, the curriculum appears to teach 'respect,' but in the end it determines that only 'politically correct' attitudes and feelings are acceptable."

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