As the parent of a sixth-grader who attends Sequim Middle School, Converse said he was appalled when he saw a portion of a "Healthy Youth" survey that will be given to sixth- and eighth-graders this week.
"There were questions asking them how many times they drank, or did marijuana or hashish in the last 30 days, there were questions asking how easy it would be for the children to get drugs or alcohol," Converse said. "It's absolutely absurd that very young children be subjected to this."
His fear, Converse said, is that the district administrators assume that all children are participating in high-risk behaviors and that by taking this survey, those who aren't will gain a curiosity for them. Converse said he has written a letter to Sequim School District superintendent Bill Bentley urging him to do away with the optional test, which was given to 10th- and 12th-graders on Oct. 2 and will be given to sixth- and eighth-graders on Oct. 16.
The biennial test, which Washington state students have been taking for more than a decade and Sequim students have been taking for several years, is sponsored by a host of state agencies, including the Washington State Department of Health, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Department of Social and Health Services Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Family Policy Council, the Liquor Control Board and the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development, according to SSD resource and information coordinator Annette Hanson. Districts can choose whether or not to give the survey to students, and this year 87 districts in 33 counties have decided to participate.
"It's a very extensively researched survey, they're trying to look at trends in our state," Hanson said. "The district receives feedback with specific information on our district ... it helps us look at trends that we need to be addressing."
Hanson stressed that each parent of a participating child was sent a letter in the mail around September announcing the Healthy Youth survey, announcing the subjects to be addressed in the survey and giving parents the option of looking over the survey as well.
"(These surveys) are a really important source of needs assessment data for school district and the local community ... the research indicates that asking youth about various behaviors does not increase their participation in a behavior," Hanson said. "But, of course, it is an optional survey and we made that clear."
Hanson added that SSD has its own policy on student surveys and administrators removed part of the Healthy Youth survey, which included more family-oriented questions.
"We want to honor the privacy of the families, so we removed a portion," Hanson explained.
For Converse, that is not enough.
"The insinuation that all children are doing this ... it's totally inappropriate," he said. "We're talking about 11-year-old children."
To view a copy of the letter sent to parents, visit the SSD Web site at www.sequimschools.wednet.edu/sequim/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=279023.
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