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Education Reporter

Sex Questions Sicken Connecticut Parents
NEW MILFORD, CT - A nosy questionnaire that provided the basis for implementing explicit sex education programs in Ohio's public schools has infuriated parents in Connecticut. The 95-question Youth Risk Behavior Survey, described by one parent as "pornographic," was given to 400 6th graders, 400 8th graders and 1,200 high school students in New Milford for the stated purpose of evaluating the health curriculum.

The survey contains descriptions of sex acts and asks students if they are gay or bisexual and if they have ever had oral sex. (See sample questions.) Many parents believe that, as well as being offensive, these types of questions are likely to give students ideas they may not otherwise have. A New York Times article (5-26-00) noted one mother's complaint that her 11-year-old 6th grader was confused by the sex questions. "She didn't know what bisexual meant," the mother explained. Another parent objected to the drug questions: "They have listed every drug known to man. It's almost like they are planting seeds."

New Milford school officials issued an apology, but some parents say that's not enough and are demanding resignations. Administrators claim they complied with federal law (which requires parental consent for federally-funded surveys) by sending a letter home advising parents that they could request in writing that their children be excused. According to the New York Times, many parents maintained they never saw the letter, which the newspaper said "broadly described the scope of the survey, but did not warn that some questions would be explicit."

Attempts to justify the proliferation of such surveys focus chiefly on the need to curb school violence. As observers point out, however, these surveys have been around a long time despite repeated parental outcry, and many have been exposed in the Education Reporter beginning in 1986.

Those familiar with the Ohio legislature's refusal of federal grant money to implement explicit sex education programs - identified by the CDC as "Programs That Work" - wonder if the Youth Risk Behavior Survey is a precursor to disseminating the programs in Connecticut's public schools. As Ohio state school board member Diana Fessler explains in her extensive report, Sex Instruction in the Classroom: "Before the programming of children to elicit behavior change [can] begin on a large scale, the need to change students' knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors [must] be demonstrated. In other words, students' behaviors have to be shown to be dangerous to their health and future productive lives. To generate the needed data, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey was conducted."

Mrs. Fessler notes that all 50 states and at least 34 national organizations receive federal CDC funds for the purpose of developing and implementing "Comprehensive School Health Education" programs. These programs are currently causing a stir in Illinois (see related story).

Pro-family educators and researchers believe the best way to circumvent the federal money carrot is through state legislation such as New Jersey bill A-2351. Sponsored by Assemblymen Scott Garrett and Guy Talarico, the bill requires school districts to obtain written parental consent prior to student participation in any and all surveys concerning sexual behavior and attitudes, illegal behavior, psychological problems, or a host of other sensitive topics. (See Education Reporter, June 2000, for the bill's text.) The legislation also requires school districts to make advance copies of surveys available to parents at convenient times and places so they can make informed choices.

A-2351 successfully passed the New Jersey Assembly on June 5 by a vote of 55-16 and is now under consideration in the Senate.

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