- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Fairfax County parents, upset about a school district plan to administer a sex survey to high school sophomores and seniors, are asking the county's Board of Supervisors, which is paying for the study, to quash the questionnaire.
"The schools are getting out of control," said Karen Budd, an Oakton mother of two. Her younger child attends a public middle school and her elder child attends a private Catholic high school. "They are assuming parents' responsibilities, and parents are letting them," she said.
"Some of these questions are asked in such a way that they give tacit approval to some of these behaviors. Kids will read these questions and think if they're not engaging in this, 'What's wrong with me?'" she said. "This is so tacky, it makes me squeamish."
The survey, which would be administered to selected 17- and 18-year-old seniors, and 15- and 16-year-old sophomores, poses about nine questions about sexual habits, including: "How old were you when you first had sex?" "Have you ever had oral sex?" "The last time you had sexual intercourse, what one method did you or your partner use to prevent pregnancy?"
In April 2002, the Board of Supervisors approved the sex survey as a follow-up to a January 2001 study of 11,332 randomly chosen middle school and high school students. That survey and the latest questionnaire are designed to help the county and the school district tailor curriculums and programs to prevent "youth risk behaviors."
Administering the study and collecting the results will cost the county about $60,000.
Most questions on sexual activity were taken from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys, but the Fairfax Partnership for Youth added two questions about oral sex.
Students may choose not to participate and their parents may also sign a form opting them out of it, but only a small percentage of students did not participate in 2001.
Recently, members of the Board of Supervisors expressed concern about the new survey questions and asked Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin for more information. On Jan. 16, Mr. Griffin sent a three-page memo to the supervisors listing the questions and detailing the reasons for asking them.
Parents of students who are selected for the survey will be notified by a letter informing them of the general subject matter, a county government spokeswoman said. But parents will not be mailed the specific questions to insure the survey will not be tainted.
If parents want to see the questions, they will have to go to their children's schools and ask to see them.
Stuart Mendelsohn, Dranesville Supervisor, plans to challenge the use of the new sex questions at the supervisors' next meeting on Monday. He said he will argue that if the questions must be used, students who answer "no" to the first question "Have you ever had sexual intercourse?" should be instructed to skip the rest of the questions.
"Young people should not have to say nine or 10 times that they didn't do something," Mr. Mendelsohn said. "The policy of the School Board is abstinence. We shouldn't be asking questions then assuming that nobody's abstinent."
"It's going to put more pressure on those who are abstinent to feel like they're out of the norm. There's no valid purpose in doing it," he said.
Braddock Supervisor Sharon Bulova, who had not seen the questions, disagreed.
"Sometimes in order to get the accurate information you're looking for, you ask the question in several different ways. They may just not be considering it, and you need to press the question. Sometimes, you need to prod a little bit to get some more information," Mrs. Bulova said.
"I think teenagers are smart enough that if they feel like they are honestly answering 'no' to questions, then they're not going to feel like there's something wrong with them," she said.
But members of the School Board and parents who spoke with The Washington Times echoed Mr. Mendelsohn's concerns and predicted that the survey would produce unreliable answers.
"We don't want to put into their minds things they haven't done then they find out 'everybody's doing it' from the survey," Springfield Supervisor Elaine McConnell said. "That's not good."
Mrs. McConnell also expressed concern about where and how the surveys would be administered, saying teenagers who "think it's funny, skew everything."
"They're good at that," she said.
Tobin Sorensen, who has children in 10th and 12th grades at Fairfax High School, said she would probably allow her children to take the survey, but that "there are plenty of studies out there on kids' sexual activity."
"I get concerned that they try to pull these things on parents without giving them a whole lot of information, and they're surprised when people get upset," she said.

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