The controversial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey could see even less participation among El Paso County public school students, if Colorado Springs School District 11’s Board of Education approves a proposal that would change its parental consent model.
Some people think that would be a shame and decrease what they believe is valuable information from students, they said during Wednesday night’s board meeting. Others said they believe it’s appropriate, since third-party surveys students take in school are too intrusive and constitute an invasion of privacy.
The seven-member board is considering moving from “passive consent” to “active consent” for surveys, analyses and evaluations that are administered to students during the school day.
The policy change would mean parents would have to give written consent for their child to opt in — instead of giving written consent for their child to opt out — of the questionnaires that ask about students’ personal thoughts, feelings, experiences and behaviors.
Currently in D-11, the region's third-largest school district, unless parents give permission for their child to opt out, the child automatically is administered the forms and solicited feedback.
In 2021, approximately 98% of participating school districts in the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey chose passive consent procedures, meaning parents and guardians had to opt their students out of taking the survey by returning to school a signed form denying permission, said Vanessa Bernal, bilingual media specialist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, administered statewide in the fall of odd years, contains more than 100 questions for middle and high school students regarding a host of topics, including their sexual behavior, drug and alcohol use, thoughts of self-harm and suicide, eating and sleeping habits, bullying, access to guns at home and other personal lifestyle and health information that some parents think goes too far.
“Any survey done on my child needs to be approved to me,” parent Jennifer Bertram told the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.
She favors requiring parents to opt in to have their students take the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey rather than opt out.
Bertram said she finds the questions “insulting,” after she read some of them aloud, including asking children if they’ve ever carried a weapon, how easy would it be for them to do that, how often did a parent swear at them or put them down, or kick, hit or physically hurt them in any way.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with how my child is doing in school,” she said. “That’s what this survey is about — an agenda.”
Students deserve their needs be known by adults, said Rhonda Heschel, a pediatric nurse practitioner and parent of a Coronado High School student.
“It’s a needs assessment,” she said to board members. “The entire purpose of the assessment is to determine what students needs are, and as a healthcare provider, the survey helps inform my practice.”
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is billed as confidential and anonymous. It’s administered by the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.
In the 2021 go-round, El Paso County was one of six regions in the state that did not have enough student participation to provide statistically significant data, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported.
That was the second time low participation among the county's 15 public school districts led to results not being released; the first was in 2015.
Public health officials say low participation is unfortunate because the data is useful in tracking behaviors, health indicators and trends. Agencies also use the information to obtain funding for programs to address identified problems, such as smoking or vaping.
El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly is among those who oppose modifying the D-11 policy.
“Due to smart phones, social media and decreasing human connectedness, this generation is growing up in a world unlike any that preceded it,” Kelly wrote in a letter he sent to the D-11 superintendent and board of education members Wednesday.
“Our only hope to offer help is to understand what they are going through and what they need,” he said, adding that that’s what the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey does.
Other surveys mentioned in the tentative policy revisions are 5 Essentials and Panorama Education, the latter of which is for elementary through high school students and is not anonymous.
According to the proposal, the new model would apply to surveys, analyses and evaluations that ask students about:
• Political or religious affiliations
• Mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student or his family
• Sex behavior and attitudes or topics that infringe on student privacy
• Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating and demeaning behavior
• Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships
• Legally recognized privileged and analogous relationships such as those of lawyers, physicians and ministers
• Income other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program.
El Paso County was one of 13 counties to have results of the 2021 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey suppressed, with results from 51 counties made public.
Statewide findings from 2021 showed students continued to have feelings of depression, anxiety and stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, and substance use decreased among teens because of their inability to access substances during the pandemic.
The D-11 board likely will vote on the item at its March 22 meeting.