STUDENT’S & PARENT’S LEGAL RIGHTS SHOULD NOT BE TRAMPLED

December 2, 2018

in Uncategorized

Minnesota Advocates & Champions for Children (MACC) have also spoken out in opposition to an action of our School District (Ref. link below), and believe as we do that our School District violated both federal and state law at the end of last school year, by conducting a mandatory survey of middle school students, asking questions about sexual behavior, gender identity and other personal information such as whether the student had thought about or attempted suicide. To date (to the best of our knowledge) neither the Board nor Superintendent have publicly acknowledged that the survey was even conducted and it appears from events since, that there is no intention to inform the public. In spite of two factual columns in the Prior Lake American (Ref. links below) alleging violation of both state and federal law, the Administration and Board have remained silent. Presumably no one has or will be held accountable for what appears to be an intentional violation of state and federal statutes.

Hopefully the new Board that will convene in January will consider alleged violations of state and federal statutes to be serious enough to warrant an investigation into what happened, who was responsible, and who will be held accountable, with results available to the public. The current Board had no problem hiring an outside investigator at taxpayer expense to investigate one of their colleagues, based upon an unsubstantiated allegation from an unidentified Staff person. Surely indisputable evidence that the District indeed administered the mandatory survey, seemingly in violation of both state and federal law that was enacted specifically to protect student and parent’s rights, deserves at least a comparable response.

(MACC) (Ref. link)
Minnesota Advocates and Champions for Children
COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS
PRIVATE SEXUAL INFORMATION IMPORTANT TO PRIOR LAKE-SAVAGE SCHOOLS; ZERO THOUGHT GIVEN TO FOLLOWING FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD LAWS & POLICIES
https://commoncoremn.com/2018/07/22/private-sexual-information-important-to-prior-lake-savage-schools-zero-thought-given-to-following-federal-state-and-local-school-board-laws-policies/#comments

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#1 Prior Lake American (Ref. link)
Commentary: School district didn’t follow correct steps with student survey
By Wes Mader Community Columnist Jul 10, 2018

Parents of middle school children are learning that the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District administered a survey to their sixth, seventh and eighth grade children that asked explicit questions about sexual activities. This survey could be in violation of state and federal law and Minnesota Department of Education guidelines.

The survey asked “During the current school year, have you participated in the following: Sending partially clothed and/or naked pictures; Touching in a sexual way; Having sex; Talking about sexual topics that make you feel uncomfortable.” It also asked “Are you GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning); Have you ever tried to kill yourself; Have you ever thought about killing yourself?” I had doubts about what I was hearing, until I obtained a copy of the survey from the school district office.

Minnesota law 121A.065 is specific, stating that a district must “give parents direct, timely notice” when their students are scheduled to participate in a student survey and “give parents the opportunity to review the survey and to opt their students out of participating in the survey.” Federal law in its Protection of Pupil Rights Act (often referred to as the Hatch Amendment) also requires that survey materials be made available to parents to inspect prior to use with their child and to require written parental consent if the survey includes sensitive personal questions. I think our school board and administration know that asking a sixth-grader if they are “having sex” is personal.

I respectfully submit that these questions are inappropriate for children as young as 11 or 12 years old, and should be asked only by a parent, if and when they believe their child is mature enough to discuss the subject in a responsible manner. I strongly believe placing these questions in front of young students with expectations of an answer, can create the start of a very unhealthy emotional thought process. While I recognize and respect that some will disagree, I hope all responsible parents agree that this kind of survey should not be administered without parental approval. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the school district did.

It takes a stretch to believe school board and administration personnel are unaware of the laws specifically intended to prevent infringement on the rights of parents, by school officials. If that’s the excuse, it doesn’t speak well of the skills and capabilities of those entrusted with making critical decisions that impact the well-being of young students. If they were acting under the belief or hope that parents wouldn’t find out, that’s totally unacceptable. It’s worth noting that information from the Minnesota Department of Education states specifically “Questions about sexual behavior are asked only of ninth and eleventh grade students.”

One would expect a school board to discuss and respond immediately to any allegation of violation of state and federal law, particularly when supported with indisputable facts. However, since this issue was brought to the attention of school officials about six weeks ago, I’ve seen nothing to suggest they consider it serious enough to merit discussion or resolution by the board, or disclosure to parents and the public. It suggests to me that school district leaders are again in a state of denial.

This brings us once more to the subject of transparency. There is no shortage of feel-good news from the district. Columns in this newspaper by the superintendent and school district newsletters read like news from Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon. The narrative seems to be that everything is great, the school board and administration are doing an exemplary job, everyone is happy and I assume all the kids are above average. But then there’s the serious stuff we’re not supposed to know about like the illegal survey.

The kids we’re concerned about are in the Prior Lake-Savage School District, not Lake Wobegon, and not all parents and residents are happy with decisions being made by school district leaders. Asking sixth to eighth-graders to answer questions about sexual behavior and orientation, while keeping parents in the dark, is not good news. Ignoring and remaining silent about allegations that state and federal laws have been violated is not transparency. Refusing to identify the school employee who approved a $600,000 payment to Nexus just weeks after their contract was signed, on the absurd claim that the employee’s name was protected under state law, is subterfuge. In that instance it took intercession by a state agency (the Minnesota Department of Administration) to get the district to comply with state law and provide Jim Dellwo’s name, months after initially requested.

Until the district stops filtering, censoring or limiting what parents and the public are entitled to know, many will continue to question their motives and actions. If the board doesn’t restore accountability and transparency to the district, lack of trust will continue, which is a sad state of affairs for students, teachers, residents, and tax payers.

Wes Mader, Chair
Citizens for Accountable Government

Please read more from The Prior Lake American: https://www.swnewsmedia.com/…/article_2953ae0a-0e0d-5a44-8b…

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake, purchasing their current home in 1992.

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#2 Prior Lake American (Ref. link)
Commentary: School district should answer questions about survey
By John Diers Aug 3, 2018

Does the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District follow state and federal law? Does it follow its own policies?

As a parent, what would you do if your middle school son or daughter came home and told you they had to take a survey at school that asked about their sexual orientation, if they’d had sex, or thought about killing themselves? Consider, too, that you weren’t told about the survey, or asked to give permission for your son or daughter to take it. This isn’t a rhetorical question because on June 6, District 719 assigned such a survey to all sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, some as young as 11.

For some families these are personal questions with social and religious implications best shared in a family setting, or with a psychologist, a physician, a counselor, or clergy. Privacy is important. It has to be respected — then there’s the matter of state law.

According to Minnesota Statute 121A.065:

School districts and charter schools must:

Directly notify parents of policies at the beginning of each school year and after making any substantive policy changes.

Inform parents at the beginning of the school year if the district or school has identified specific or approximate dates for administering surveys and give parents reasonable notice of planned surveys scheduled after the start of the school year.

Give parents direct, timely notice, by United States mail, e-mail, or other direct form of communication, when their students are scheduled to participate in a student survey; and Give parents the opportunity to review the survey and to opt their students out of participating in the survey.

School districts and charter schools must not impose an academic or other penalty upon a student who opts out of participating in a survey.

The same, or similar language is in federal law. The school district has a separate policy that reflects the language in both. Even so it appears the district didn’t follow any of them when it administered its survey. Why and for what reason? I don’t know, nor do the parents I’ve talked with. They’ve challenged the district for an explanation and received none — nor at this writing has the survey been discussed in a public statement from the district. I learned about the details in a July 14 column in this newspaper and in emails and discussions on “Next Door Prior Lake.”

My wife and I are in our 70s and don’t have children in district schools, but as a matter of accountability we still have questions: Why the survey? What business is it of the school district? Is there an academic need for these questions? And what about student privacy? How is it protected? Who sees the survey results, teachers, counselors, administrators, parents, and students — or are the results sold to outside groups or interests for marketing and/or research purposes? None of these questions have been answered by the school district.

There should be an explanation and an investigation and disclosure as to why, and how, this happened — and with it a public apology to parents. More importantly, the elected school board should get involved and call for an inquiry.

I’m not hopeful or optimistic that we’ll see accountability for any of it. There seems to be a culture of collusion between the current board majority and the school administration — an Orwellian “groupthink.” That is an unwillingness to question, or debate, or challenge, or seek different opinions. Instead, the current board majority supinely seeks comfort and safety in consensus, while silencing and punishing other board members, or those outside the board who publicly disagree. A board apologist calls it the “district voice.” Another term might be McCarthyism.

We’ve seen this behavior before. Specifically the board majority took action against another board member whom they’d accused of hosting a party where high school students were allegedly permitted to consume alcohol. Coincidentally, this same board member asked questions and disagreed with the majority and wasn’t deemed a team player. The accusation was investigated by legal counsel and determined to be unfounded. More recently another member was called to account for writing a newspaper column that didn’t reflect “the district voice”— or the party line. And let’s not forget, in conjunction with the recent referendum, this same board majority selected and awarded, on recommendation of the school administration, a multi-million contract to a consulting firm without benefit of an open, public procurement process.

This November brings an election and an opportunity to elect a new board. Let’s be sure we affirm that all the candidates know, and understand, the importance of open discussion and debate; that they’re prepared to challenge the administration, when its required, and, in so doing, are willing to bring a measure of accountability to the decision making process.

Please read more from The Prior Lake American:
https://www.swnewsmedia.com/…/article_51a3054d-f4fd-5046-94…

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com.

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