- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

A survey asking high school students about their sexual experience would be legal under the U.S. Code, Fairfax County Attorney David Bobzien said yesterday in a finding that left few options for opponents of the survey.
The Board of Supervisors on Jan. 26 asked the county attorney to determine whether the 169-question survey, which included nine questions on sexual behavior, violated federal law.
Mr. Bobzien said yesterday that the survey does not violate Chapter 31, Title 20, Section 1232h of the U.S. Code, which states that "no student shall be required, as part of any applicable program, to submit to a survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning … sex behavior and attitudes … without the prior consent of the parent."
The survey is a local initiative and does not use federal funds, Mr. Bobzien said in his written opinion. Moreover, students or their parents may opt out of the survey, so students are not "required" to complete it.
Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, Dranesville Republican who has been the survey's chief opponent on the board, said he understood how Mr. Bobzien had arrived at his opinion, but "I don't agree with it."
The School Board still can stop the survey but has shown little opposition to it.
At-large School Board member Mychele B. Brickner, however, has proposed that the survey be postponed for a year.
The School Board will vote Thursday at its biweekly meeting, in what is likely the last step before the survey is circulated among students this spring.
Parents and county politicians have questioned whether high school sophomores and seniors should be asked whether they have had sexual relations, engaged in oral sex and, if so, how many sexual partners they have had.
Ms. Brickner also proposed that the School Board submit the survey for study by a committee that reviews family life issues, because she believes that the questions are inappropriate and unnecessary.
The Board of Supervisors rejected a similar proposal by Mr. Mendelsohn and voted to approve and fund the survey.
Ms. Brickner has said she is not optimistic that the 12-member School Board will approve her plan.
"The best thing I could do is delay things a little bit," she said. "I hope it would provide more time for everybody to reflect on whether this is the best approach. I think it's too much, and I don't think we should be doing this."
She has proposed that the $65,000 set aside for the survey be used instead to "provide alcohol and drug services for children not yet receiving such services."
Of the nine survey questions dealing with sexual behavior, some students would have to answer only two.
The Board of Supervisors on Jan. 26 adjusted the survey questions. Students who answer no to the first question "Have you ever had sexual intercourse?" would be instructed to skip the next six questions and answer only one other sex-related question, "Have you ever engaged in oral sex?"
The questions that would be asked if a student answers yes to the first question include queries on the student's age at the first sexual encounter, the number of sex partners, the length of time since the last encounter, whether drugs or alcohol were involved, and whether condoms were used.
The survey, scheduled for late April, is a follow-up to a survey given to 11,332 Fairfax County students in grades eight, 10 and 12 in 2001. No questions in that survey involved sexual behavior. Most of the questions asked students about alcohol and drug abuse, depression and thoughts of suicide.
The county has said that the purpose of the survey is to inform the health department and the school system on how to develop and shape treatment programs, and what behaviors to target among teenagers. The latest survey would be administered to students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12, but the questions on sex would be asked only of 10th- and 12th-graders.
The School Board would notify parents in advance of the survey, but parents would have to go to the school to look at the questions.

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