Student-Survey Dispute Spawns More Parent Rights

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To settle a lawsuit brought by a group of parents, the San Antonio school district has agreed to destroy surveys completed by high school students this fall.

The parents complained that the surveys, filled out by more than 600 students at Jefferson High School in September, asked personal questions about the teenagers and their families.

They were represented in a federal lawsuit by the Texas Justice Foundation, a nonprofit public-interest litigation foundation that advocates parental rights.

A lengthy mediation session between lawyers for the foundation and officials of the 60,000-student San Antonio Independent School District produced the agreement reached late last month. It calls for parents to be given copies of their children's questionnaires to review before the surveys are destroyed.

In addition, the district will establish a parents' committee to review future surveys that might be considered "personally intrusive," and will obtain parental consent for surveys that include sensitive topics such as political affiliations, sexual behavior and attitudes, and mental and psychological problems, among other matters.

Thomas W. Stack, a staff lawyer for the San Antonio-based foundation, called the agreement "very much a victory."

"As far as our clients were concerned, these were psychological surveys," he said. "They delved into the thoughts and feelings of children about themselves and their families."

Building Rapport?

The questionnaires were drafted by the district's counseling department and given to students at the high school by their homeroom teachers as part of an effort to foster better rapport with the teenagers, said David Splitek, the associate superintendent.

"If we had to do it all over again," he said, "that wouldn't have been the instrument to use as an icebreaker."

Questions on the two-page "Getting to Know You" form include: "What do you consider to be the best thing about your home and the worst?" "Do you have a hard time controlling your temper?" and "If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be and why?"

Jefferson High, with some 1,800 students, has been organized into four academies. As part of the restructuring, which was designed to create a smaller and more personal atmosphere, students take part in "academic coaching" classes.

Under the agreement, those classes must address only academic issues. Parents represented by the foundation asserted that they were "designed for the teacher to become a surrogate parent."

Mr. Splitek disputed that characterization of the classes, which he said are supposed to ensure that both parents and teachers track students' academic progress.

The district also consented to providing in-service training for its employees to emphasize that they can't retaliate against, intimidate, interrogate, or harass students or parents who exercise their rights. Mr. Splitek said such information is already part of the district's employee training.

Finally, the district agreed to instruct its staff members not to tell minor students that their records are off-limits to their parents, unless such confidentiality is otherwise allowed by law.

Vol. 18, Issue 15, Page 3

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Student-Survey Dispute Spawns More Parent Rights
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