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DISTRICT TO GET CONSENT WHEN SURVEYING STUDENTS

The Davis School District will strictly enforce a state law requiring parental permission before surveying students regarding such things as political affiliations, mental health problems, sexual behavior or religious beliefs, among others.

Added to the policy is a section specific to Davis County requiring all districtwide tests to be reviewed before being used.The Board of Education adopted the Family Education Rights and Privacy policy at its Tuesday meeting, making it effective Sept. 1.

Past problems with teachers involving students in inappropriate writing assignments caused development of a tighter privacy policy, said Nancy Fleming, assistant superintendent.

Last June Davis County parents questioned the invasiveness of several questions on a questionnaire called the Student Development Survey, Fleming said. The survey is part of the Challenge Program used for students making the transition into the seventh grade. It also includes the Stanford Achieve-ment Test and past teacher information questionnaire. The program is designed to identify exceptionally gifted or economically, socially and academically challenged students.

The program is used by other districts around Utah but under different names.

Parents were mainly concerned with questions such as: "What is your ability to do well in school?" or "How often do you read a book, newspaper or magazine outside of school?"

"We took out most all of the questions concerning how easily a student can handle conflict or how he feels about himself in school - anything on the emotional maturity scale - to accommodate the needs of those parents," she said.

"We have changed the test for this year and feel we can get the same kind of information without those kinds of questions."

That wasn't the parents' only concern. Mark Rinehart, co-chairman for the committee to develop a privacy policy for Davis County government, wanted last year's survey results expunged because parent permission wasn't obtained.

According to HB403, districts are required to get consent from parents whenever a child's privacy may be compromised. But last year's test didn't obtain that consent, Rinehart said.

"The law was broken, and the district should have disregarded the information and got parent consent and re-tested (given the survey again)," he said. "The data is still there (filed at schools) and can be obtained even though the test was given illegally."

The district admitted the mistake, locked the files and ordered those without consent be made inaccessible.

The district will now require parent consent when surveying on private matters. Fleming said less than 8 percent have refused in the past.

"The law says you can determine what goes in your child's file, but not someone else's file," she said. "Results can't be used unless there is a signature, and we have made that very clear through labels on the student's folders."

Although the files can't be used, they still exist, and the district doesn't have time to check through all the files to keep some and discard others, she said.

Board member Kathie Dalton was reluctant to approve the policy because she didn't think some information on the test was necessary. However, board member Dixie Hill considered the student survey a worthy tool in helping students adjust to the seventh grade.

"I had a great experience in doing this survey with my child." Hill said. "He did it himself, and I found out his answers were different than what I probably would have said."