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Education Reporter

2nd Nosy Survey Lawsuit Filed

RIDGEWOOD, NJ - The Ridgewood School District on Jan. 23 was served with a second lawsuit over the administration of an intrusive questionnaire to students without parental knowledge or consent. Parent C.N. filed the lawsuit on behalf of her son (M.N.), who was 13 at the time the survey was given in March 2001.

Entitled "How Am I? Checking Up on Yourself," the survey appeared in the January 2001 issue of a magazine called Current Health: The Continuing Guide to Health Education. Seventh and 8th-grade students at the George Washington Middle School answered 55 personal questions about the use of alcohol and illegal drugs, sexual behavior, and illegal, anti-social, and demeaning behavior.

This questionnaire was given even though litigation was pending against the Ridgewood School District over a Search Institute Survey administered to 9th graders without parental consent in 1999. (See Education Reporter, January and February 2002.) The Search Institute survey also probed children about "risky" sexual behavior, illegal drug use, suicide, incriminating behavior, and other personal family matters. In December 2001, a federal appeals court ruled that the parent-plaintiffs in that lawsuit could go forward, and the case is still pending.

The new lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, charges that the Ridge-wood School District, in administering "How Am I" without parental consent, violated the students' Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Students were required to take the survey, write their names on it, and turn it in for credit.

The complaint alleges that "the defendants failed to administer the survey in an anonymous fashion with the result that information provided by the students, including M.N., was potentially subject to identification and publication." It charges that the school district "invaded the privacy of the student plaintiff and interfered with the rights of the adult plaintiffs to raise their children as they see fit."

Law Prohibits Surveys  
In January 2002, the Governor of New Jersey signed into law the New Jersey Student Survey Bill, which requires that public schools obtain prior written parental consent before administering surveys that ask students for personal information. Opponents of the law are trying to pass a new bill to allow simple "passive consent," which means that if parents fail to return consent forms, "that failure to respond indicates approval of participation in the survey." This bill was tabled in the Assembly and killed in the Senate.

Citing the recent spate of news stories linking several New Jersey educators with a variety of pornography and sex charges, parent Carole Nunn believes that to again permit the surveys would place students in potential danger from pedophiles and child pornographers.

"When Ridgewood administered their supposedly 'anonymous' Search Institute Survey to students in three of our schools," stated Mrs. Nunn, "that anonymity was breached. One school labeled the surveys with students' names. At another school, students were questioned about their alarming answers on the survey. At a third school, a student was made to retake the survey because he had jokingly changed his race. Imagine how great is the temptation for educators who are pedophiles or child pornographers to review our children's completed surveys."

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