State School Board pulls support for student health and risk survey after nearly 20 years
Survey helps Utah government agencies track trends, plan programs and deploy resources to improve students’ physical and emotional well-being
After partnering for nearly 20 years with state health and human services agencies on a biennial student survey on health and risk prevention, the Utah State Board of Education has voted to withdraw its support.
Some board members raised concerns about the study, which requires parental permission for a student to participate. School districts choose whether to participate and nearly all have since the survey’s inception in 2003.
The survey is administered to students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 in most public schools in Utah every other year. The next Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) Statewide Survey is scheduled for February 2023.
Board member Natalie Cline said in a recent board meeting that she would vote to get rid of the survey because “I don’t know that it’s helping as much as it’s hurting.”
Cline said, when putting herself in the shoes of a teenager, the “dark survey questions make me anxious, depressed, suicidal and causes me to think about things that I never would have thought about. It teaches me how to use drugs and to think about using drugs often. It makes me think that suicide is a legitimate option for dealing with discomfort and the challenges in my life. It causes me to see my parents as the source of my problems.”
She continued “the SHARP survey didn’t say anything about many kids’ stimulant of choice, pornography, which is readily available and accessible anonymously in the school library and classroom.”
Another board member questioned the length of the 120-question prevention needs assessment survey, particularly for younger students surveyed who are in the sixth and eighth grades.
Other board members pushed back against abandoning the board’s support of the survey, which state officials said has helped address an uptick in teenage drinking and generated effective strategies to curb youth vaping, suicides and informed the creation of the SafeUT app, which provides real-time crisis intervention.
Board member Scott L. Hansen said pulling the board’s support “is premature and irresponsible.”
The board reviewed the survey two years ago and voted to support it, he said. The survey has produced a body of data dating back to 2003.
“We have this train that we’ve been riding for some time, this body of data, and to withdraw our support before we have a substitute is just irresponsible. Let’s put a task force or work group in place. Let’s look at it while we support it then make whatever changes we need to. Why give a signal to all of our LEAs (local education agency) that we don’t want this data? Some of them may be influenced by that and drop off and then we lose the ability to do anything with this,” he said.
Hansen acknowledged that board members have concerns and suggested that perhaps questions regarding pornography could be added to the survey.
While the board voted late last week to pull its support of the 2023 survey, it does not necessarily mean the survey won’t be conducted in Utah schools next year. School districts and individual schools may elect to continue to administer the survey, which is funded through the Utah Department of Health and Human Services with in-kind support from the State School Board. Schools also have the choice to opt out.
The survey has been a collaborative effort among the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Utah State Board of Education and the research firm Bach Harrison.
“Students are going to take it regardless of what we say because it’s not our survey,” said State School Board co-vice chairwoman Cindy Davis.
“The only thing that all of this discussion is doing right now is deciding if we’re going to put our USBE letterhead on the front of the survey. ... This survey is going out regardless of whether we do this or not. So I think everybody needs to have a clear understanding of what’s happening here,” she said.
Davis said she supported a work group “because if we are going to put our name on it, honestly, we have to feel comfortable with it as a board.”
The work group is scheduled to report to the full board during its October meeting.