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Utah school district apologizes after students given 'inappropriate' survey on religious beliefs, economic status

After parents complained about an "inappropriate" survey that asked a class of seventh-graders about their economic status, religious beliefs and whether they had ever considered suicide, the school's principal apologized and canceled any further surveys.
After parents complained about an "inappropriate" survey that asked a class of seventh-graders about their economic status, religious beliefs and whether they had ever considered suicide, the school's principal apologized and canceled any further surveys.
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SANDY — After parents complained about an "inappropriate" survey that asked a class of seventh-graders about their economic status, religious beliefs and whether they had ever considered suicide, the school's principal apologized and canceled any further surveys.

"For the most part, the survey asked such questions as age, favorite color, whether the students had visited any of Utah's national parks or if the students had been born in Utah," said Jeff Haney, spokesman for the Canyons School District. "But the survey also included questions that were more serious and covered more personal topics."

For the first day of school, two Indian Hills Middle School teachers said they wanted to personalize their Utah studies lesson plans for seventh-grade students — and understand their sensitivities — when they issued the survey on Wednesday, Haney said.

Students were told that all responses would remain anonymous and they could skip questions if they didn't feel comfortable answering them.

"While there were good intentions, we do acknowledge that some of the questions were inappropriate," Haney said.

On Thursday, school administrators learned about the survey after "a couple" of parents emailed Indian Hills Principal Doug Graham and complained, Haney said. Administrators then instructed the teachers to delete the results and cancel any future surveys. Canyons officials said they plan to train the teachers on "the development and distribution of surveys to students."

Neal Summers, a parent of a student surveyed, said he found out about the survey after parents were notified. His son's mom died three years ago.

"When you're in seventh grade, you want to fit in. You don't want to stand out as being different and when you lose a parent, you feel like are very different and that nobody understands who you are and what you're going through," Summers said.

"To be given a survey where you have to say something like that, I think they feel different than others," Summers said.

Haney said the 25-question survey mostly covered questions pertaining to Utah studies — if they know anyone in the military, if they were related to Utah pioneers and if they had ever visited a Native American reservation.

But he also acknowledged that students were asked if they were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; if anyone in their immediate family had died; if they ever worried about having enough food to eat; if they had a learning disability; ever faced discrimination; and if they had ever considered suicide.

Haney stressed that the school district was maintaining transparency, and the parents of the surveyed students were alerted by email on Thursday.

"We apologize for any concerns that parents or students may have had concerning the questions, and we’ve put measures into place to ensure that similar future classroom activities are reviewed before they are distributed," Graham said in Thursday's email to parents.

Summers feels the school is not providing enough transparency, however. When he responded to Graham's email and asked for a copy of the survey, the principal told Summers that the data and the survey itself had been deleted.

"I feel like, as a parent of a minor child, I should be entitled to see anything that's given to them," Summers said. "You have given my child something you deem inappropriate and then you're not giving me a copy of that."

Summers had requested a copy, he said, so he could know what he needed to talk to his son specifically about.

"When you make a mistake, don't try to do a cover up — just tell us what was asked," he said.

Along with giving the two teachers further training, the administrators plan to have more communication with educators before surveys are given to students, Haney said.

Summers said he thinks the school needs to ask parents before their children are given surveys that deal with tough subjects.

"Moving forward, we would ask that the teachers work with the administration to make sure the information that they are asking of students is appropriate," Haney said.