A survey given to a handful of students at a California elementary school has prompted angry protests from parents who learned the poll included several probing questions about sexuality.
In a 54-question “Trauma Symptom List for Children,” four 3rd graders and five 5th graders at the 1,000-student Mesquite Elementary School in Palmdale were asked last month if they were “thinking about having sex,” “touching my private parts too much,” and “thinking about touching other people’s private parts.”
In all, nine of the survey questions asked about sex. Pupils answered the questions with “never,” “sometimes,” “lots of times,” or “almost all of the time.”
Students needed a signed letter of consent from a parent or guardian before they could take the poll. The form sent home described the poll as an effort to “establish a community baseline measure of children’s exposure to early trauma.”
But the permission slip said little about the survey’s content— and nothing about sex.
“This should never happen to any child anywhere,” said Tammany Fields, whose 10-year-old son took the survey. “These were questions that were never in my son’s mind before he took this [survey]. This was a school he trusted; now he feels betrayed.”
Chain of Command?
Whether the student survey was approved by school and district administrators remains a point of contention.
The poll, copyrighted by Psychological Assessment Resources Inc. of Odessa, Fla., was administered by a female employee of the Children’s Bureau of Southern California, a Los Angeles- based child advocacy group. The woman, who was volunteering as a therapist in the district, which is about 70 miles north of Los Angeles, had planned to use the survey results in her graduate work and sent home 400 permission slips, said district spokesman Isaac Barcelona. Only 20 parents gave their consent.
Distribution of consent forms, surveys, or other such materials in a Palmdale school requires written permission from an assistant superintendent of the 21,000-student district—permission Mr. Barcelona said the therapist had not obtained.
“People knew her and were comfortable with her,” he said. “The principal and assistant principal assumed she had gotten permission, which was an erroneous assumption, as it turns out.”
But Ms. Fields, one of eight parents who had complained to the district about the survey as of last week, believes school officials knew more than they are admitting about the purpose and content of the survey.
“I think it was absolute carelessness from the top of the line of command to the school site,” she said.
In response to the complaints, district officials replaced the therapist and plan to ask the school board to consider tighter controls on the distribution of surveys and other materials in Palmdale schools, Mr. Barcelona said.
A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2002 edition of Education Week as Survey’s Sexuality Questions Anger Elementary Parents