- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Colorado school officials backed off a plan Wednesday to change how the state asks kids about their sex lives and drug use in anonymous surveys.

The decision came after health authorities pleaded to keep the survey intact to get the best data now that marijuana is legal for adults over 21.

The state Board of Education voted Wednesday to delay indefinitely any change to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. The Board was considering changing how the survey is collected after some parents complained the surveys are too explicit.

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

The anonymous surveys are used to chart childhood risk behaviors such as smoking, drinking and bringing guns to school.

The Colorado Department of Education says the youth-risk surveys are sent every other year to randomly selected middle and high school students. The last survey, given in 2013, was given to 40,000 youths in 118 schools. The surveys have been done since 1991.

Current law allows school districts to decline participation or to require parental permission. But parental permission isn’t required by state law. Colorado’s marijuana taxes now pay for the surveys.

But public health officials consider the surveys a vital tool to gauge what young people are doing, not what their parents think they are doing. Earlier this year the Board got a personal visit from Colorado’s chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, who argued that survey changes could reduce participation and therefore limit results from the surveys.

“It’s our best source of our information about our youth and their health behaviors,” Wolk said earlier this year.

The Department of Education has made a small change to survey collection, though. The Department has revised instructions being sent to school districts asked to participate in the 2015 survey, said Rebecca Holmes, associate commissioner for innovation, choice and engagement. The new instructions emphasize that the surveys are to be described as optional and that schools can’t compel students to complete them. The schools participating in this fall’s surveys haven’t yet been chosen.

Only four states require so-called active consent from parents before children complete risk surveys - Alaska, Kansas, New Jersey and Utah, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

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Online:

About Colorado’s youth health surveys: https://bit.ly/1ACNGJh

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