Published June 15, 2011
A middle school in Massachusetts is under fire for requiring children to complete a graphic sex survey -- without parental knowledge or consent -- that included questions about sexual partners and oral sex.
The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Education against the Fitchburg School Committee. They are representing the two middle school-aged daughters of Arlene Tessitore.
Tessitore said her daughters, both students at Memorial Middle School, were told they had to complete a Youth Risk Behavior Study.
“Kids were actually told to sit down and take them,” said John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “The parents here are very upset.”
Whitehead said the girls were deeply disturbed by the subject matter of the study – including questions about suicide, drug use and sexual behavior.
“One of the questions is, ‘have you ever had oral sex,’” Whitehead said. “You’re talking about kids who probably don’t even know what oral sex is.”
He said the survey also delved into even more graphic language.
“It’s adult material,” he told Fox News Radio, noting that one question asked students what method they used to prevent pregnancy during their last sexual encounter.
“It goes down a whole list, including birth control pills, condoms and one of the answers is ‘withdraw,’” Whitehead said. “Adults know what this is, but kids have to imagine or go online to find out what it means.”
Principal Fran Thomas told Fox News Radio that students were indeed given the survey – and admits it was graphic. But Thomas said the school has nothing to do with the content and they were required to administer the survey to fulfill a grant requirement.
“I can take no responsibility for what’s on that survey,” Thomas said. “It’s not generated by the school system.”
Thomas said the survey was funded by a federal grant and administered by LUK Inc., a local social services agency -- in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control.
The organization’s leader did not return numerous calls for comment. But according to its website, LUK, Inc.’s mission is to “challenge and support youth & families to recognize and fulfill their unique and productive potential through community-based prevention, intervention and education services.”
A spokesperson for the CDC denied any involvement in the Fitchburg sex survey. The CDC said only seven states and six urban districts include sexual identity questions on their YRBS surveys – and the questions are optional.
But Principal Thomas disputed that notion.
“It was not optional,” he said. “It’s part of a grant that they applied for and the district said you have to administer this survey.”
According to Whitehead, parents were sent a “passive consent” opt-out form. However, Tessitore said she never received the form and never gave permission for her daughters to take part in the survey.
“It was a case of the school telling parents what they were going to do,” he said. “If parents want their kids to answer these kinds of questions as federal law requires, they should give written consent. But if they don’t give consent, I don’t think public officials should be asking children such questions.”
Thomas said he understands the concerns expressed by the parents. But should the middle school be asking children questions about oral sex?
“That’s not a question I’d be asking,” Thomas said. “That’s not information that needs to be gathered in an indiscriminate manner – asking every single student these sorts of questions.”
Thomas said it wasn’t appropriate. “I think there are many things that schools are called upon to do because they think they’ve got a captive audience,” he noted.
Whitehead wants the Department of Education to step in and demand that the Fitchburg school follow the law when it comes to parental consent.
“Parents send their children to public schools to receive an education; not to become subjects of governmental data mining,” Whitehead said.