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Education Reporter

Virginia Parents Stop Nosy Questionnaire! 
FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA - A controversial nosy questionnaire scheduled to be given to area children in grades 6-12 at the end of April was scrapped by the company that produced it. The 169-question survey asks students about their sexual behavior, use of drugs and alcohol, whether they have ever considered suicide, and other personal matters. Fairfax County officials said they were unable to release the Channing Bete Company that produced the survey from liability, and the company declined to take the risk of lawsuits filed by parents who object to the survey's intrusive personal questions.

The Washington Post reported (4-23-03) that the survey was "hotly protested by many parents" who do not want their children quizzed during school time about how old they were when they first had sex, whether or not they've ever had oral sex, and other sex questions. Participation in the survey was said to be voluntary, and the sex questions were to have been given only to 10th and 12th graders. All remaining questions about personal behavior, suicide, and other personal matters would have been given to 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th-grade students.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts-based Channing Bete Company told the Washington Times (4-24-03): "We didn't have an issue with the content - the handful of sex questions that were added by Fairfax County. We just made a business decision that we couldn't take a legal risk."

As reported in Education Reporter (March 2003), Channing Bete has sold its "Communities That Care" (CTC) questionnaires to about 400 communities nationwide to be given to middle and high school students for the purpose of measuring "a comprehensive set of risk factors" affecting teens. Survey results are used to obtain grant monies for funding health curricula and community programs that many parents and citizens don't even want.

The new survey was scheduled as a follow-up to the CTC questionnaire given to Fairfax County children in 2001, which asked them whether they engaged in binge drinking, used various drugs, and probed for their experience with guns or other weapons. According to the Washington Post, the results of that survey enabled the county "to qualify for more than $1 million in grants for various programs."

Channing Bete was apparently put on guard by the two lawsuits filed in Ridge-wood, N.J. since 1999 to challenge nosy-survey violations of children's innocence and privacy (see Education Reporter, Jan. and Feb. 2002, and Feb. 2003). Last year, the New Jersey legislature passed a law prohibiting nosy questionnaires without prior written parental consent.

Fairfax County officials, however, seem undeterred by parental outrage. Laura Yager, director of prevention services for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, told the Washington Post: "Because this was an unfortunate circumstance, our hope is that we will still be able to do a survey in the future."

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