Law & Courts

Student Survey Found to Violate Federal Law

By Darcia Harris Bowman — January 09, 2002 2 min read

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

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
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
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
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

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 Appeals Court Weighs Idaho Law Barring Transgender Female Students From Girls' Sports
The three-judge federal court panel reviews a lower-court ruling that blocked the controversial statute and said it was likely unconstitutional.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Federal Appeals Court Backs Socioeconomic-Based Admissions Plan for Boston 'Exam Schools'
The court denies an injunction to block the plan for next year and says considering family income in admissions is likely constitutional.
3 min read
Image shows lady justice standing before an open law book and gavel.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court Wary About Extending School Authority Over Student Internet Speech
In arguments, the justices looked for a narrow way to decide a case about the discipline of a cheerleader over a profane Snapchat message.
7 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the court on April 23. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a major case on student speech.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court to Weigh When School Board Censure of a Member Violates the First Amendment
The justices will decide an issue that has become more salient as a few board members rant inappropriately on social media.
5 min read
Image of the Supreme Court.
iStock/Getty