Law & Courts

Student Survey Found to Violate Federal Law

By Darcia Harris Bowman — January 09, 2002 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A New Jersey school district broke a little-known federal law two years ago when it surveyed students on drugs, sex, and other sensitive topics, the U.S. Department of Education has declared.

The 5,200-student Ridgewood, N.J., district violated the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment by requiring almost 2,000 students to answer questions about their sexual habits, their experience with drugs and alcohol, and their mental health in a 156-question poll paid for with federal Goals 2000 money, according to the department ruling issued last month.

Prompted by complaints from several Ridgewood parents, the decision is based largely on affidavits from four students who said they believed the survey in the fall of 1999 was mandatory.

“I was very pleased with the ruling—it vindicated me,” said Carole A. Nunn, one of the parents who filed a complaint with the department. “This is a message to other school districts who think they can do these surveys without getting parents’ permission: You better think again because you could find yourself in a lawsuit, or a federal investigation, or risk losing federal funds.”

Although the department’s decision carried no penalties for the Ridgewood schools, the district must furnish evidence within the next month that it has reminded its officials about the law’s requirement for written parental consent before students fill out such surveys.

Findings Disputed

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment requires districts to get written parental consent before students fill out any survey that is financed with money from the federal Education Department and asks personal questions on such matters as political affiliation, psychological problems, sexual behavior and attitudes, critical appraisals of family relationships, income, illegal or self-incriminating behavior, or relationships with lawyers, doctors, or ministers. (“Parental Rights at Issue in Probe of Student Survey,” Jan. 26, 2000.)

Some district officials dismissed the ruling as unsubstantiated.

“I thought it was a disgrace, quite frankly, and an embarrassment to the Department of Education,” said Charles V. Reilly, the president of the Ridgewood school board. “How you draw such sweeping conclusions from so little evidence—it’s outrageous. There’s no question we’re being used as a whipping boy by people who are, in my view, conservative extremists.”

Ms. Nunn said she hopes the ruling can be used as evidence in an ongoing federal lawsuit against the district, in which three Ridgewood parents allege the school system violated the constitutional rights of parents and students when it administered the survey.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2002 edition of Education Week as Student Survey Found to Violate Federal Law


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
The parents argued that their children, due to health conditions, were at particular risk if any of their peers attend school without masks.
David Goodhue, Miami Herald
3 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Law & Courts Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general's office anticipates filing more lawsuits against districts flouting the governor’s order. Will Dallas be next?
Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News
4 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Law & Courts Can They Do That? Questions Swirl Around COVID-19 School Vaccine Mandates
With at least one large school district adopting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, here is a look at the legal landscape for such a requirement.
5 min read
Image of a band-aid being placed on the arm.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts High Court Justice Rejects Student's Bid to Block Removal Over Sexual Harassment Claim
Justice Elena Kagan denied a California student's effort to return to school after his 'emergency' suspension under Title IX regulations.
3 min read
The Supreme Court in Washington as seen on Oct. 7, 2020. After more than a decade in which the Supreme Court moved gradually toward more leniency for minors convicted of murder, the justices have moved the other way. The high court ruled 6-3 Thursday along ideological lines against a Mississippi inmate sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally stabbing his grandfather when the defendant was 15 years old. The case is important because it marks a break with the court’s previous rulings and is evidence of the impact of a newly more conservative court.
The U.S. Supreme Court as seen on Oct. 7, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP