July 18, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Informed consent legislation for release of sensitive student data fails

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A House bill that would have required informed consent before parents allow their children to participate in a controversial survey about drug use, alcohol use, and family relationships is dead for this session.

Every year, thousands of students across the state take a test called the Communities That Care survey which has been widely used in Kansas schools for 25 years as a tool for receiving grants for many programs.  In essence, school districts are profiting by sharing student data gleaned from a questionnaire that asks very personal questions.

The test, which takes about an hour, is administered four times in a student’s career —  in the 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades.

Opponents of the test say it’s an invasion of privacy, asking about personal issues such as drug and alcohol use, family life issues, gun violence, suicidal ideation and much more.

In 2014 legislation was passed requiring parents to be shown the survey if they asked and letting them “opt-in” to the test.

But the opt-in is done at enrollment when parents have many things to sign and may miss — or misunderstand — that particular permission slip.

“My adult children were given the CTC survey which violated their right to privacy and our rights as parents,” opponent Linda Highland said in her testimony. “After the 2014 Student Data Privacy Act passed, I was shown the CTC survey and was outraged by the nature of the questions, only to find out our children had been abused by being coerced into taking it without our consent.”

HB2690 would have required school districts to email a copy of the test to parents before getting their written consent to allow their children to take the test.

“This is something that would allow parents to see it so that they know what questions their kids are being asked,” Kansas House Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Heubert (R-Valley Center) said. “There’s a lot of parents and you know I was one when I saw the survey that felt like there were questions that were inappropriate. 

“But I also know that over the years and talking with a lot of kids, and we even had testimony, that most kids don’t take their survey real seriously. They just fill it out in ways that aren’t real accurate.”

Morgan Riat, who graduated in 2017 took the test and testified to the committee that very few of her classmates took the test seriously.

“During this near hour-long test I was grilled on subjects revolving around drug & alcohol use as well as personal subjects relating to my home life,” she said. “Question number sixty-three of the quiz asks the quiz recipient ‘How many times have you used marijuana in the last thirty days?’ I got to thinking that even though I myself had not ever and will never use recreational drugs those in my class that have would most certainly not be willing to confess to this illegal action by way of a quiz that was given by the school. 

“The next thought that entered my mind was that an individual taking the test could also mark wrong answers to falsify the test results filling in every bubble they could that hinted at drug and alcohol use or maybe even problems at home.”

The issue, then, is that the survey data is being used to allocate grant funding — tax dollars to schools, who may or may not have the problems they’re getting grants for.

The House Education Committee recommended the legislation be approved but the deadline for consideration by the full House has passed, so it’s dead for this session.

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