The Minnesota Student Survey

Testimony given to the Forest Lake School Board meeting

Monday, April 2, 2001

by Linda Flatten

Good evening, and thank you for listening to me.

I have spoken with many of the board members, Superintendent Steenblock
and Chuck Moses as well as Mr. Conway, my children's Principal. My point
this evening is to formally address all of you about my concerns with
the MN Student Survey.

I had copies made for all board members, Building Reps, AFSCME Rep, and
all administrators of the important information I am speaking about. I
began my research only a couple of weeks ago when my 6th grade daughter
came home with a note stating that a survey will be given and there are
"frank" questions. The letter stated that, "The survey is completely
voluntary and is anonymous and confidential." It also stated that
"you may choose not to have your child take the survey. If so, contact
the number listed below."

After looking over the survey, I knew that my daughter would not be
answering these questions. This began my next effort, to find out WHY
and HOW can the district be able to so easily ask such personal questions
to our children. This has been a very interesting and enlightening
search. I have talked with Jim Colwell at CFL (The Department of
Children, Families and Learning) several times.

Just to inform the school board, since most were unaware of The MN Student
survey, this survey has been given for years, and every 3 years each
district is offered the survey. Each time, the district says yes or no to
the survey.

Chuck Moses initially told me that it was the school board that decided to
have this in the district. After calling only a few board members, and
finding out they knew nothing about this, I called Chuck back again and
asked him, "If the board is not aware of the survey, who said yes to it
this year, 2001?"

His answer was, "Well, I guess that it was me." I feel that this should
be a decision made by a few more people than just Chuck Moses, and a little
more thought should go into the decision, rather than just doing it every
three years because we have in the past.

Who is looking into the affects and impact this is having on the students?
Does anyone look at this group of kids going through our schools who have
answered these questions? What impact does this have on them?

This led me back to Jim Colwell. I asked him, "Are there any school
districts in the state that do not participate in this survey?" He
answered ,"Yes, there is about 15 districts." I asked him for the names
of all the districts, and I began calling them.

By the way I might add Jim's letter that listed these school districts
had an attached comment: "These districts do not participate. Some are
too small to receive any results back and don't participate for that
reason. Others have recently given another, similar survey, and still
others didn't want to give the survey this year but have in previous years.
"Since there are dozens of districts as small or smaller that do
participate in the survey and are added to the states results, I knew I
must continue to search out the answer myself.

Well, I began calling all these districts, it was interesting to me
to find that none of the districts gave the reason of "being too small,"
but several gave the reason that the MN student Survey was not being
given because of the content of the questions and inappropriate probing
information this was gathering. Eveleth-Gilbert school district was
listed, and after talking with the superintendent, he led me to an
Eveleth-Gilbert board member.

My next discovery was, not only are these questions disturbing,
inappropriate, and probing into very personal and private matters, but
the school district has actually acted in violation of the "Protection
of Pupil Rights Act." The Grassley Amendment (20 US code, 1232h) states
that, "Schools are required to receive prior written consent before the
schools administer (the MN student survey) any survey, analysis, or
evaluation that reveals information concerning mental and psychological
problems, sex behavior and attitudes."

This amendment also states in Sec. 439 part (e): "If in violation, an
investigation process will take place." It will be interesting to you,
I am sure, to know that the school district I spoke of, Eveleth-Gilbert,
had looked into this amendment and did seek prior written consent before
administering this MN student survey in the past. What they found was,
given the opportunity to know about the survey and the content, parents
were not signing the forms to agree to have their child participate in
this type of questioning. So a district such as Eveleth-Gilbert was not
getting the accurate picture of the entire district to draw any
conclusions from a survey such as this, which was making any results
meaningless.

This may have been what Jim Colwell meant when he referred to districts
being too small to receive results. When done in the correct and legal
way, with prior written consent, districts were finding the parents
disagreeing with the districts wish to probe the student and ask
questions of such personal issues.

The letter sent home to the Forest Lake districts parents gave an
opportunity to "opt out," but the law reads that a school district must
only offer such a survey as an "opt IN" situation. In fact I had also
found in my research that some parents were never given the letter, and
some kids at the high school level only found out about any such survey
the day it was given, let alone their parents knowing anything about a
survey.

I understand now that this survey should never have been given to our
children in this district because no prior written consent was obtained
in any grade level.I am asking that this survey be given up and tossed
away for my school district. I do not want something like this to ever
be given to kids. This kind of questioning is not the way to gather any
information useful to a school district. As stated in the form letter
that went home with our kids, "Frank questions will be asked addressing
issues adolescents encounter such as..."

Not any mention of all the many psychological or incredibly nosy questions
about very private personal issues. I am very opposed to this kind of
questioning to our children. This survey really sounds like this: "We all
know it is wrong, we all know your parents tell you not to, we all know
our teachers say don't, but since you won't get in trouble, since you
won't get caught, just tell us: is it 3 days? 5 days? Really, how often
do you REALLY do it? WE KNOW YOU DO?! This is what it sounds like if
you try real hard to imagine someone asking you very personal questions
about your thoughts and behaviors. Why would someone in authority ask
me these questions?

My husband and I have two very smart, curious children, they both were
curious about the survey that was of issue at our house. We talked to
our 6th grader about the content of some questions on the survey, and her
response was exactly what I fear and it supported exactly what I am saying
to you tonight. "Why are they asking ME these questions?" was her
response.

Our 4th grader, who doesn't miss much of our families discussions, asked,
"What are the questions like?" after hearing about the content his
response also supports my point. "That seems like it's none of their
business. Why do they need to know that?"

Now that you have all looked at the MN student survey, I think asking
these questions to kids normalizes all of these behaviors, and what
becomes familiar and normalized is not feared. Why do we want to make this
normal for them? Why do we put carrying a gun to school, wanting to hit
or beat someone up, smoking, taking drugs, running away, skipping school,
suicide, all these issues, on a scale? Once -- one time -- for most of
these issues is WRONG and ILLEGAL!!

A very interesting discovery was made by a principal in the Lake
Crystal-Welcome district (a also not participating in the
survey). My phone call to the superintendent of that district led me to
the academic dean of the high school, because the superintendent was not
aware of a survey called the MN Student Survey and wasn't sure why or
who said "No" to it this year.

The dean also had no idea of this survey, remembered hearing something
about some survey, but wasn't sure what I was referring to. She led me
next to the principal of the high school.

The principal and I talked about the survey. However, he asked me, "Why
and how did you get a hold of me, in our district, the principal?" I
explained to him what the superintendent had said, and what the dean had
told me, and he suddenly became very interested in this, angry that the
information that he had shared with administration from the survey in
the past years (results from 1998) had no impact on them, and they had
no recall of any such survey or any discussions about such a survey.

He said, "Well, this makes me curious as to who this is for, and what
this information means to anyone, if anyone at all." My comment to him
was, "This is exactly what concerns me. what do any of you administrators
and board members do with this information? Is any of this even
meaningful in any way, and is any one concerned or even investigating
what kind of impact this is having on our children?"

I ask you tonight, what are we doing this survey for? What do we do with
the answers? Are the benefits of asking our children such probing
personal questions that great?

If the survey is confidential, and the district finds there are 4 kids
who do drugs, want to hurt others, kill themselves, or carry weapons to
school, just what do you do with that information? Treat all kids as if
they are the one who answered it that way, since you have no idea which
kid it was? Do you plaster the information all over the Forest Lake
press, that the suicide rate is climbing, that there is someone among us
who wants to act out violently in school?

Do we add fear to our kids and communities because a survey has been
given and the answers indicate that? Who benefits from this?

Please consider what negative impact this has on our schools and kids
before we so blindly accept surveys "just because they were given in the
past", or, worse yet, just because someone at the government level of
the Department of Children, Families and Learning wants to know this.

How about sending the clear message to our kids and parents that you do
trust them, that their parents are right, and stop stepping in where
parents have always had the rights. These are private issues that we
all talk to our kids about. Each one of us talks to and cares for our
kids, and when we allow and act as if that is not being done (because
we do know unfortunately, in some homes it is not), but when the parents
who are parenting are being treated as if they are the parents who don't,
you will see the number of parents who don't parent, rise. Because, "why
not, the schools are doing that."

It has been proven that when there is lack of parental involvement at
home, there is an increase in all these issues in our children. This is
not what you want, and I feel that the schools and the government should
stop stepping in where parents rights still are,and have always been.