- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Children as young as 12 years old were recently asked the following questions in a school survey: "If you have ever used these drugs, at what age did you first use them?" The drugs listed included, among other things, snuff, marijuana, cocaine, crack, inhalants, amphetamines, methcathinone, narcotics, psychedelics, heroin and steroids. Or consider this question: "How many times in the last two weeks have you had five or more alcoholic drinks (beer, wine, liquor) at a sitting?" These were two of 24 questions on an "Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Use Survey" administered with taxpayer dollars. The public-school survey, which asks children to indict themselves and their families, is issued across Indiana to sixth- thru 12th-graders during regular class time. Not surprisingly, some parents had a big problem with this.

Families in Ridgewood, N.J., recently won the right to argue in federal court that requiring such nosy student surveys is unconstitutional. The Ridgewood case should set a precedent for families in Indiana and other jurisdictions, but the administrators of the Indiana survey took advantage of legal loopholes in a federal law. The Protection of Pupil Rights amendment to the Educate America Act, passed in 2000, states that no student shall be required to take any survey revealing such personal information.

Unfortunately, money was more important to Indiana's Vigo County School Board than how to teach moral values or parents' rights, since Vigo County was threatened with losing $500,000 for a drug-prevention program unless 90 percent of county students took the survey. The board got around state and federal regulations by declaring that the survey was optional even though it was given during class time. "Parents are just helpless when it comes to really impacting the system," says Robin Plank, a parent of junior-high students in Vigo County who has been trying to change school board and Indiana policy since last year. "We are effectively sealed out from really being able to make change." The Indiana Prevention Resource Center aided the board's efforts by making the surveys voluntary and anonymous, and arguing that a high percentage of students should take the survey or results would be skewed.

So is the survey really voluntary? Citing the fact that the parental-consent issue had been a matter of debate in both Congress and the Indiana General Assembly, the Indiana Prevention Resource Center says survey participation rates drop dramatically when parental consent is required and that students from at-risk environments are less likely to return parental-consent forms thus excluding drug users from the survey and skewing the data.

But there are parents who care enough about their children to want to teach them about drugs outside of surveys that ask leading questions. Besides, excluding parents from their children's education puts children more at risk not less.

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