- Associated Press - Thursday, March 12, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Alarmed by anonymous surveys asking Colorado’s middle and high school students about their sex lives and drug habits, the state Board of Education delayed action Thursday on considering changes to how the 24-year-old survey is collected.

Controlled by Republicans, the board delayed a vote to require parental consent for the surveys after their vote on the matter brought only one side - parents and health officials asking them not to make such a change.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey has been given to a sampling of students every other year since 1991.

But the survey was expanded dramatically in 2013 and has since come under additional scrutiny. They survey asks the students about having sex, using drugs, considering suicide, bringing guns to school and other unhealthy behaviors.

Public health officials consider the surveys a vital tool to gauge what young people are doing, not what their parents think they are doing. “It’s our best source of our information about our youth and their health behaviors,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado’s chief medical officer.



But some board members have taken issue with the questions, and they disagree that the surveys are voluntary. Currently the state allows parents to decline the survey, but school districts are allowed to collect surveys from pupils whose parents haven’t affirmed their kids can participate.

“There are major problems with this survey, in terms of its content,” said board member Debora Scheffel, a Republican from Parker.

Another questioned the need for them. “You don’t need the survey to be able to tell kids to practice safe behavior and avoid unhealthy behavior,” said Pam Mazanec, a Republican from Larkspur.

The board heard from nearly two dozen health officials and parents Thursday asking them not to change how the survey is collected. No one spoke in favor of changing how the survey is done.

But the seven-member board agreed to delay after Republicans asked for more feedback from parents.

The surveys aren’t given until this fall, giving schools officials time before deciding whether to require changes.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which considers the surveys voluntary, may consider sending the surveys directly to school districts if the state Department of Education backs out, Wolk said.

But he urged the board to keep the surveys unchanged, especially in light of marijuana legalization. “Everybody wants to know how the legalization of marijuana will impact our youth, and this is the single best data source that we can answer that question with,” Wolk said.

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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