Today the NJ Senate Education Committee is holding a hearing on a bill, S-1696/A-3242, which will change (slightly) the way that schools secure parent permission to survey students. Sort of surprising that word of this bill is just now reaching Ridgewood, since the current law was inspired by the infamous Ridgewood survey of 1999. And surprising, too, (encouraging!) that some lawmakers have the good sense to bring this issue forward. The current law seriously undermines the ability of a community to collect data on issues that affect our students and to appropriately and locally develop solutions to keep our children safe and healthy.
The bill would allow students to participate in a voluntary survey if the district sends prior written notification to the student's parents, and the parent does not object. This is known as “passive consent” and the important word to note is consent. This bill does not “ignore” or “take away” parents’ rights. Parents absolutely have the right to prohibit their child from participating in a survey. In fact, some argue that passive consent maintains that option with increased anonymity.
Why is this bill important? Information about youth use of alcohol and drugs is used by a community, and the state, to develop effective prevention programs. In comparing the participation rate and cost of conducting a survey as proposed in this bill versus the current law, the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services found the cost of implementing a survey would be $1.80 per student versus $16.97 per student - nearly 10 times the cost. The overall average response rate was 91% versus 42%. As anybody who understands statistics knows, the higher the participation rate, the more meaningful and useful the data. Under the current law, the DHSS has concluded that participation rates of 42% are not adequate to provide meaningful information about youth populations – not to mention that state agencies cannot afford to conduct statewide surveys if they cost 10 times more.
More and more, school districts are being charged with caring for more than simply the “book learning” of students. Schools – as a constant and consistent point of contact with youth – are expected, and in many ways legally required, to care for the whole child: education, social development, physical wellness, mental/emotional health, etc. Beyond schools, agencies such as the DHSS are certainly and directly responsible for physical and mental health of our youth. Making it more difficult to gather real information in order to do their jobs makes no sense. One of the tools both school districts and state agencies need is the ability to compile information related to youth trends regarding attitudes and use of alcohol and drugs. The best way to do this is via a voluntary and anonymous system that respects parental concerns about the material children are exposed to in surveys administered at New Jersey schools.
I’ll be following the progress of these bills and I’ll keep you posted. As you know, the New Jersey legislative process is unpredictable (at best), so who knows what will happen next, or when.
Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org