School Ceases 'Intrusive' Sex Surveys Without Parental Consent

Surveys that ask young students about their sex life, among other personal issues, will no longer be administered without parental consent at a Massachusetts school.

Fitchburg School Committee passed this week a new policy that says surveys will only be given to students who have permission from their parents to take it.

John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and who represented a concerned mother, called the new policy a victory for parental rights.

"Parents are the ones who should decide whether they want their children to be mined for information about their personal thoughts, beliefs or practices," Whitehead said in a statement. "We take it seriously when government officials try to short-circuit that essential parent-child relationship."

The surveys that caused concern for Arlene Tessitore, mother of two middle school daughters, were the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the Youth Program Survey.

Earlier this year, the daughters, who were in seventh and eighth grade at Memorial Middle School in Fitchburg, were given the surveys to complete.

Some of the questions asked in the surveys included: "Have you ever tried to kill yourself?" and "With how many people have you had sexual intercourse?"

True/false questions included: "I feel comfortable talking with any partner I have about using a condom" and "I have had oral sex at some point in my life."

While the daughters tried to be excused from taking the surveys, they were told by their instructors that they had to take it.

Tessitore complained to school officials over what she considered "intrusive, sensitive" surveys being administered without parental consent.

The Rutherford Institute filed a federal complaint in June on behalf of the mother, arguing that "the administration of the surveys with such intrusive, insensitive and, in some cases, age-inappropriate questions to developing young people without parental consent or knowledge undermines the essential parent-child relationship by introducing topics that should be the subject of private, familial conversation."

In response, the school agreed to eliminate the "passive consent" system, in which it is presumed that the parents have given consent if they do not complete a form that students are sent home with. Only when parents give written consent will students receive surveys to complete.

In the two middle school students' case, such a consent form was never given to them to pass on to their mother.