Secret child interrogations carry legal risks for districts across the state
Without parents’ knowledge, students are being required to divulge personal information about their religious affiliation, family income levels, “preferred” gender, and even sexual preferences in schools across North Carolina. Schools may be endangering children while also breaking Federal laws.
Last year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) sent these questions to pupils in grades 6–12 as a part of a mandatory “School Climate Survey:”
After an uproar from parents concerned about privacy, age-appropriateness and the lack of communication with families; CMS abandoned use of the survey questions. Charlotte School Board chairwoman Elyse Dashew said this in a statement:
“I think somebody’s common sense took a spectacular vacation…Bottom line is we need to be very careful with our future surveys, why they’re being asked, and how they work, the anonymity, and how that works. And we will do that.”
Apparently not every school in the district got Dashew’s memo.
Last week, a middle school in Charlotte mandated a seventh-grade homeroom teacher administer this “Privilege Self-Assessment.” The questionnaire was published by Everyday Feminism: a platform dedicated to exploring sexuality and curing “toxic whiteness.”
During a math class in rural Johnston County last month, sixth graders were required to complete these surveys on race religion, and LGBTQ attitudes:
These same students, enrolled at Innovation Academy in Smithfield, were also given a survey on “LGBTQ rights” to complete in class:
Rev. Dr. Wendy Ella May, an LGBTQ advocate and the first LGBTQ political candidate in Johnston County, objected to these questions being posed to elementary students:
“I think it is a very inappropriate survey. First of all, to ask an 11 year-old about LGBTQ. Second of all, without contacting parents it is inappropriate.”
In addition to being inappropriate, these forced surveys violate a federal law which prohibits public schools from asking students questions about sex behavior or attitudes, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and critical appraisals of other individuals.
Endangering LGBTQ Students
There are numerous other reasons why students might want to keep their personal information secure, not the least of which is that disclosing one’s sexual identity too soon often comes with dire consequences.
Schools that collect data on students’ sexual and gender preferences may be required to turn the data over to parents if requested. Students may have an expectation of privacy while taking surveys, but in actuality, LGBTQ students may be unknowingly “outing” themselves to their families before they are emotionally prepared.
According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, physical abuse and even self-harm are common results of a coming-out story for many, with almost one-quarter of all suicides young people between the ages of 12–29 believed to identify as LGBT.
Last year Tennessee teenager Tyler Clementi took his own life after being outed as bisexual by classmates who then bullied him.
“My brother committed suicide because of the actions of 2 kids that he trusted that turned personal screen shot messages over to social media in a deliberate attempt to assassinate his character,” Clementi’s brother wrote on FaceBook.
Sharing sensitive information through an unsecured process may endanger students who trust school administrators to keep their data secure.
Details of teens sexual proclivities could easily fall into the hands of abusers involved with the school system. Criminals could then prey on victims during the 38-plus hours students spend in school on a weekly basis.
In his recent testimony to Nevada’s General Assembly on child sex abuse, forensic psychiatrist Dr Michael Welner highlighted the stages of grooming from predators: gaining a child’s trust, finding a need they can fulfill, sexualizing the relationship, and isolating them from parents and other protectors.
It’s not a stretch to wonder if data collected from these surveys would give would-be predators the chance to jump-start the grooming process with vulnerable victims.
The risk of students’ personal information getting into the wrong hands surely outweighs the benefit from collecting the data.
No Good Reasons
Why are teachers asking questions to students that even their own employers cannot legally ask candidates during job interviews (a fact surely not lost on any teacher)? And why are parents never consulted prior to requiring students to divulge private information?
Perhaps these teachers are ignorant of student privacy protections and parental rights, are just running a psychology experiment (think: Blue Eye/Brown Eye experiment). Or, perhaps teachers really are collecting the data for manipulation purposes.
Neither scenario is great, and both confirm what most people already know: North Carolina’s public education system has forgotten that privacy is for parents and students — transparency is for the government.