- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2002

A law enacted this week in New Jersey has elated conservative advocates who oppose schools giving "nosy" surveys to students without their parents' consent.
On Wednesday, New Jersey's outgoing Gov. Donald DiFrancesco signed a bill requiring public schools to obtain written consent from parents before issuing personal surveys to students.
Federal law already requires written parental consent for personal student surveys conducted with federal funds; the New Jersey law expands that requirement to any public school survey, regardless of its funding source.
The law stems from an outcry in Ridgewood, N.J., over a 1999 school survey that asked more than 2,000 middle- and high-school students about such things as their sex partners, suicide attempts, LSD use and shoplifting activities.
"It is reassuring to know that, as of today, no more students in New Jersey will have to endure being subjected to violations of their privacy rights simply because they go to public school," said Carole Nunn, mother of a Ridgewood student who took the survey in 1999.
"It's a great victory for parents," said Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly.
"Parents have been unhappy about these nosy questionnaires for many years, and there have been many attempts to stop them, most of them unsuccessful," she said.
"This time, we have a triple win," she added, referring to the new law and to recent favorable rulings by a federal appeals court and the Department of Education (DOE).
The New Jersey law is "very important" and will likely be replicated soon in other state legislatures, said Michael Schwartz, an official with Concerned Women for America.
Parents and school officials have been embroiled with the Ridgewood school survey since it was given in the fall of 1999.
School officials said the 156-question survey, developed by Search Institute, a respected research group, was voluntary, anonymous and able to provide important information. School officials said they alerted parents to the survey on three occasions and made it available to parents two months before it was given. Many Ridgewood parents supported the survey, according to local news reports.
Other parents, however, said they were not properly informed about the contents of the survey and that the children were required to take it. Some children said they were even told they would be marked absent if they didn't take the survey. One child, who was out sick the day of the survey, was instructed to take it the day he returned.
A group of parents filed a lawsuit against Ridgewood school officials and asked the DOE to investigate whether school officials violated the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) when they gave the federally funded survey without written parental consent.
In February 2001, U.S. District Judge Nicholas H. Politan dismissed the parents' lawsuit, saying that the survey was voluntary. On Dec. 10, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed Judge Politan's ruling and sent the case back to the lower court.
A few days later, the DOE ruled that Ridgewood schools had violated the PPRA and ordered school officials to inform their staff about the federal rules for written parental consent for student surveys.
On the heels of these two decisions, New Jersey senators revived a bill to require written parental consent for all student surveys in public schools. After a vigorous debate on Monday, lawmakers passed the bill and Mr. DiFrancesco, a Republican who will be replaced tomorrow by Democratic Gov.-elect James McGreevey, signed it into law Wednesday.

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