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Back to January Ed Reporter
Education Reporter
NUMBER 191 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JANUARY 2002

Triple Win for Parents' Rights in New Jersey
Parents win on appeal in nosy questionnaire case! 
RIDGEWOOD, NJ - A federal appeals court ruled last month in C.N. v. Ridgewood Board of Education that parents can go forward with their lawsuit against the Ridgewood School District and that the charges of constitutional violations can proceed in federal court. This lawsuit stems from the school district's 1999 administration of an intrusive survey using federal Goals 2000 funds. (See court decision.) This decision reverses a Feb. 15, 2001 District Court ruling in favor of the school board.

At issue was a 156-question survey called "Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors," which probed students about their personal lives and activities. The survey included questions about sex, drugs, suicide, incriminating behavior, spirituality, tolerance, and other personal matters. (See Education Reporter, January 2000.)

Question 108 asked students "how many times, if any, in the last 12 months have you used LSD?" The acceptable answers were "0"; "1"; "2"; "3-5"; "6-9"; "10-19"; "20-30"; or "40+" times. Question 101 was: "Have you ever tried to kill yourself?" Acceptable answers were "No"; "Yes, once"; "Yes, twice"; "Yes, more than two times."

Question 56 asked students to incriminate themselves by divulging how many times they had "stolen something from a store." Question 59 asked if they had "damaged property just for fun"? Questions 105-107 asked if they had used heroin, opium, morphine, alawan, PCP or Angel Dust. Students at Ridgewood High School and two middle schools, some as young as 12 years old, completed this survey under the assurance of anonymity.

Some parents were shocked that such an "intrusive" and "offensive" survey was given to their children. Seven parents filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education's Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO), charging that the school district violated the PPRA by using a federal grant to administer the survey without obtaining prior written parental permission. Several parents also initiated legal action.

When the federal District Court ruled against these parents, they appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. "The Appeals Court ruled unanimously in our favor," explains parent-plaintiff C. N., "but the school district has now filed a petition for a rehearing with the three original justices. To succeed at this effort, these three judges would have to agree to a rehearing."

Another Victory 
While a rehearing remains uncertain, Ridgewood parents have another victory to celebrate. In a 15-page letter to Ridgewood School District Superintendent Frederick J. Stokley dated Dec. 18, the U.S. Education Department's FPCO announced the results of its two-year investigation of parental complaints about this survey. The letter states: "This Office finds that the District violated PPRA when it administered the 'Search Institute Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behavior Survey' without the prior written consent of the Complainants."

The Department of Education letter confirmed that the school district violated all four requirements of the PPRA: (1) the survey was funded with federal education (Goals 2000) funds; (2) the students were "required" to participate in the survey; (3) the survey asked questions that would reveal information in three of the prohibited information categories; (4) the school district did not obtain prior written consent from the parents.


Parents' rights bill becomes law!  
TRENTON, NJ - On Jan. 7, 2002, the acting Governor for the state of New Jersey signed into law The New Jersey Student Survey Bill (A3359), immediately following its approval in the state Senate. Often called the New Jersey Protection of Pupil Rights bill, it takes the federal requirement for written parental consent beyond federally-funded surveys to include all surveys given in the state's public schools that ask students to give personal information. (See bill text below.)

The new law requires that schools obtain informed written parental consent before giving surveys or tests asking for information about political affiliations, potentially embarrassing mental and psychological problems, sexual behavior and attitudes, family income and other personal family matters, legally privileged matters, and more. It also imposes monetary penalties for school districts found in violation of its provisions. "It's a solid, wonderful law," asserts New Jersey Eagle Forum leader Carolee Adams.

When details of the Ridgewood "Profiles of Student Life" questionnaire surfaced two years ago, Mrs. Adams and State Assemblyman E. Scott Garrett collaborated on a bill (A2351) to protect students from intrusive school surveys. (See Education Reporter, June 2000.)

This bill passed both houses of the New Jersey legislature in 2000, but was vetoed by then-Governor Christine Todd Whitman. After Whitman's veto, bills requiring informed parental consent were re-introduced in both the state Assembly and Senate.

Many parents are thrilled that New Jersey's PPRA has finally become law. "It is reassuring to know that students in New Jersey will no longer have to endure violations of their privacy rights simply because they go to public school," said parent Carole A. Nunn, whose child completed the "Profiles" questionnaire in 1999. This survey prompted a lawsuit that recently yielded a victory for parents.

"The new law is but one step in defending our children from ever-greater government control," Assemblyman Garrett points out. "Ask any audience of parents, 'Who knows and loves your children more - you or the bureaucrats?' and the response is predictable."

Carolee Adams adds: "It's important that simultaneous judicial and legislative actions are bringing more attention to the travesty of intrusive surveys in our schools. With such a dual approach, we are better assured of victory for our families and our freedom.


ASSEMBLY Bill No. 3359

STATE OF NEW JERSEY
209th LEGISLATURE 
INTRODUCED MARCH 26, 2001

Sponsored by: Assemblyman E. SCOTT GARRETT, District 24 (Sussex, Hunterdon and Morris)
Assemblywoman Marion Crecco, District 34 (Essex and Passaic)
Co-sponsored by: Assemblyman Talarico

SYNOPSIS Allows school districts to administer certain surveys to students only after receiving written informed parental consent.

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT As Introduced.
(Sponsorship Updated As of: 6/15/2001)

An Act concerning certain surveys conducted by school districts and supplementing chapter 36 of Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes.

Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. a. Unless a school district receives prior written informed consent from a student's parent or legal guardian and provides for a copy of the document to be available for viewing at convenient locations and time periods, the school district shall not administer to a student any academic or nonacademic survey, assessment, analysis or evaluation which reveals information concerning:

(1) political affiliations; 
(2) mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student or the student's family; 
(3) sexual behavior and attitudes; 
(4) illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating and demeaning behavior; 
(5) critical appraisals of other individuals with whom a respondent has a close family relationship; 
(6) legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers; 
(7) income, other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under a program; or 
(8) social security number.
b. The school district shall request prior written informed consent at least two weeks prior to the administration of the survey, assessment, analysis or evaluation.
c. A student shall not participate in any survey, assessment, analysis or evaluation that concerns the issues listed in subsection a. of this section unless the school district has obtained prior written informed consent from that student's parent or guardian.
d. A school district that violates the provisions of this act shall be subject to such monetary penalties as determined by the commissioner.

2. This act shall take effect immediately.
STATEMENT 
This bill provides that prior to a school district administering certain academic or nonacademic surveys, assessments, analyses or evaluations to its students it must receive written informed consent from a student's parent or legal guardian and must provide a copy of the document for viewing at convenient locations and time periods .

These requirements would only apply if information is revealed concerning (1) political affiliations; (2) mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student or the student's family; (3) sexual behavior and attitudes; (4) illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating and demeaning behavior; (5) critical appraisals of other individuals with whom a respondent has a close family relationship; (6) legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers; (7) income, other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under a program; or (8) social security numbers.

If a district violates the provisions of the bill, it would be subject to such monetary penalties as will be determined by the commissioner.

This bill is modeled on 20 U.S.C.A. 1232h, commonly referred to as the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment. This law provides, in part, that school districts must receive written parental consent before students are required to fill out any survey, analysis, or evaluation that is funded with moneys from the federal Department of Education and that deals with certain sensitive issues.


 
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