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Alert to parents of public and private schools
Parental Consent Now Required for MN Student Survey (MSS)

February 2, 2004

Testimony against the MSS from a parent, April 2001
"...these questions [are] disturbing, inappropriate, and probing into very personal and private matters...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...' "

In a memo sent last Friday to all Minnesota school superintendents, the MN Department of Education clarified new policies school districts MUST FOLLOW in administering the Minnesota Student Survey (MSS). The MSS is a controversial survey developed by the Search Institute that asks and collects personal and invasive data on students.

In the memo, Commissioner Yecke clarifies that changes in federal law (No Child Left Behind): "requires LEAs [local school districts] to obtain prior written parental consent before minor students are required to participate in any USDOE [federal Department of Education] funded survey, analysis or evaluation that reveals information concerning one or more of the following protected information:

    1. political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student's parent;
    2. mental or psychological problems of the student or the student's family;
    3. sex behavior or attitudes;
    4. illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demanding behavior;
    5. critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
    6. legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians and ministers;
    7. religious practices, affiliations or beliefs of the student or student's parent;
    8. income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).

"The MSS asks questions in one or more of the above topics and is funded in part by the USDOE. Although students may choose not to participate in the survey or not answer specific questions, prior written consent from the parent (or the student if 18 years of age or older or emancipated) is required before the MSS is administered this year.

"For other surveys that elicit the above protected information that are not funded in whole or part by the USDOE, prior written consent is not required, but parents have the right to opt out of such surveys. Parents also have the right to inspect any such surveys, and to inspect the instructional materials used in such surveys.

"In addition, all LEAs are required to develop and adopt policies - in consultation with parents - concerning student privacy consistent with [federal law]."

"If you have questions about MSS, please contact: Ruth Ellen Luehr, MDE Learning Readiness and Support 651-582-8403 and ruthellen.luehr@state.mn.us or "Jessie Montano, Director of NCLB Consolidated Programs 651-582-8784 and jessie.montano@state.mn.us"

More from parent testimony:

  • "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!! "

    Following is the press release issued on Friday from the Minnesota Department of Education:

    January 30, 2004
    CONTACT: Bill T. Walsh, (651) 582-1145

    Parental Consent Requested for 2004 Minnesota Student Survey

    (Roseville, MN.) The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) is notifying schools and parents that previous parental consent will now be required for students who choose to participate in the 2004 Minnesota Student Survey. Federal education law specifies that surveys concerning minor students' behavior funded wholly or partly by the U.S. Department of Education follow these procedures.

    MDE and the Minnesota Department of Health cooperate in the Minnesota Student Survey given every three years. The survey provides valuable information on students' physical and mental health. Government programs and researchers use information from the survey to fine-tune efforts to help students improve their health.

    MDE is providing schools with sample letters explaining the survey and the new procedures and sample consent forms for parents and guardians. These forms will have to be signed and returned before students participate in the 2004 Minnesota Student Survey. In previous years, parents and guardians were given the opportunity to have their students opt out of the survey. The new procedures are not expected to affect the validity of the survey results.

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