An alarm was raised by Big Walnut Middle School parents on social media recently about a survey given to students as young as eleven. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which is now administered by the Delaware General Health District (DGHD), has been collecting data on students since 1991 for the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This year, for the first time, Delaware County Middle-Schoolers were asked about their sexual orientation, gender identity and detailed thoughts about suicide.
Penny Sturtevant, a Big Walnut staff member, participated in the planning group that finalized the survey contents under the guidance of the DGHD. The group includes members from every school district in the county, the suicide hotline, and other health-related organizations such as Syntero.
Sturtevant told The Ohio Star that she visited each school building participating in the survey. She provided teachers, staff and administrators with multiple suggestions for notifying parents. As a result, Big Walnut tried to reach families through their school website, robocalls and forms sent home to advise parents of their right to opt their children out. They also provided access to the survey itself.
Unfortunately many parents did not receive the notice. Some of those who did looked over the survey and expressed their concerns on social media:
I don’t think this ok . Not with our parent consent and I actually don’t think it’s anyone’s business.
The questions are appalling to ask anyone, let alone grade school students. Is this a joke?
How on earth they think questions like that are appropriate for middle school aged kids is beyond me!!! And to do it in such a back door approach is wrong; so many levels of wrong.”
A comparison by The Ohio Star of the 2017 middle school survey to the 2019 version reveals several changes. The new survey is six pages longer and some of the questions added include:
8. Which of the following best describes your sexual identity
- Heterosexual (straight)
- Gay or lesbian
- Prefer not to disclose
- Additional sexual identity category/identity not listed (please specify below)
54. Have you ever participated in the following? (MARK ALL THAT APPLY)
- Sexual activity
- Sexting (pictures and/or words)
- Viewing pornography/naked pictures
- None of the above”
The most recent version of the survey for eleven- to fourteen-year-olds also added three questions about sexual behavior. The previous survey had none. One of those questions was,
Have you ever received something of value such as food, drugs, shelter or money in exchange for sexual activity?”
Four questions were added to a new section called “Mental Health”. Several asked about suicide, including whether or not an attempted suicide resulted in, “…injury, poisoning or overdose that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse?”
Another asked students to note the causes of their anxiety, stress or depression.
The previous survey asked a child’s gender, with possible answers including only male or female. The 2019 survey asked,
4. What is your gender?
- Prefer not to disclose
- Additional gender category/identity not listed (please specify below)
One Big Walnut School Board member, Brad Schneider, responded with the following statement on Facebook: “I’ve heard a few concerns about a survey the Health Department does as part of their regular planning process. The Heath Department asks the District to help collect the data on the children in the county because it’s the easiest path for them to get the data…” He provided information but gave no opinions.
All 88 Ohio Counties administer the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to public school students. In Delaware County, the survey is administered every two years to high school and now middle school students. The data is compiled and combined with other country-wide information to create the Community Health Improvement Plan. The results also drive funding for services.
Multiple attempts to reach the Ohio Department of Health resulted in a recorded message stating the volume of calls was too high for them to respond, followed by a disconnect. A message left with the CDC was not returned.
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