Idaho school turmoil over sex survey

When Brandy Sobotka-Ramos enrolled her 11-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter in their local charter school, she did not expect it would oblige her to talk to her children about anal sex.

But that’s what she and a number of other parents in the small community of Jerome, Idaho have been facing since last month.

Elementary school-age children enrolled at Heritage Academy were given a survey -- designed for adults – called the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) survey.

It was created by a physician in 1985 as a means of determining childhood trauma in adults and consists of 10 questions such as, “Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way or try to actually have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with you?” Another question is, “Did you often feel that your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?” And then this one: “Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide?”

Heritage did not seek parental consent before distributing the survey.

“My children were required to complete this in class and were told it was not optional, but anonymous unless they chose to include their names,” Sobotka-Ramos told Fox News. “I never dreamed I would be explaining anal and oral to my babies.”

She said she went back to the Heritage Academy and obtained a copy of the ACE questionnaire only after one of her kids climbed into the car and started telling her about it. Sobotka-Ramos is just one of several parents, grandparents and community members deeply upset and determined that the school administrator who issued the survey, licensed counselor Christine Ivie, be held accountable.

“If the Heritage Academy School board will not do its job and respect its stakeholders, we will also hold them responsible,” Sobotka-Ramos said. “We will do whatever is necessary to protect our children and the future children.”

The Idaho Public Charter Schools Commission told Fox News that while they are aware of the matter, it is one more appropriately addressed by the school board. The board, however, did not respond to a request for comment but did issue a statement on its Facebook page thanking parents for their concerns and urging them to reach out to Ivie to schedule an appointment to discuss it further.

Apparently, that’s not going to cut it for many Heritage parents. Over the past few weeks more than 100 locals have come together in their own private Facebook group, Call to Action: Heritage Academy, to express anger and "seek justice." Members claim that the survey caused a great deal of stress for students, and that some are enduring deeper levels of trauma due to the re-surfacing of past events.

“This has definitely impacted our town. Parents feel betrayed and are very hurt," Sara Bateman, mother to a 11-year-old son, whom she has since pulled from the school, said. "Many of us are looking to take legal action and I have personally been in contact with many state and local officials."

Bateman says she is one of several parents who have removed their children from classes and that other parents will keep their child enrolled only until the end of this school year.

Sandy Ricketts, the grandmother of nine- and 11-year-old students, called the survey an “invasion of our children’s innocence.” Mystie Bremer said she was furious that her 11-year-old grandson was subjected to “vile language."

Despite the parental anger, enrollments actually increased last month, Ivie said.

Heritage Academy, which opened in 2011 and now has about 175 students, is a unique public charter school in Idaho. It seeks to meet the academic needs of the children in rural Idaho in what is deemed a “diverse, high-risk population” with very high poverty levels.

Parents say they collected copies of the ACE survey – in its original form -- either from their children or by going to the school personally. However, Ivie told Fox News that questions were modified for students to be “age appropriate.” She noted, for example, that the question about sexual fondling was re-written to read, “Has an adult or teenager touched where your swimming suit covers and made you uncomfortable?”

According to Ivie, the paraphrased survey was given (or read) to younger students. She said middle-school students received the regular adult version because many middle schools have a significant number of students dealing with the items on the survey.

Ivie also emphasized that the ACE survey is used widely by pediatricians, social work supervisors, county prosecutors and national education organizations. She apologized that the “anonymous assessment … caused anyone any anxiety,” stressing that it was not aimed at targeting parents but merely to help them develop the most useful programs in the school amid budgetary restrictions.

“It is used to identify stress factors in a school or community. It is designed to help us understand the challenges the children are dealing with and find resources that will empower the parents and children to be successful,” she said.

Ivie maintained that "a lot of good" has come out of the survey, including encouraging struggling parents to seek help. She also emphasized her deep care for the community and the children, and the difficulties she and other educators face in trying to address such serious but often swept undercover issues. Her hope now is that students are discussing those survey items with a trusted adult and concerns can be addressed.

And while many parents remain aghast, several have also supported Ivie, insisting that she and the staff are “warm and loving and care about the welfare of each and every child,” and that if she were to leave Heritage “it would be a great loss to the children and their quality of education at that school.”

Jeff Pierson said he was a "a bit concerned about the survey at first, but I spoke at length with Dr. Ivie, reviewed what my son was given, did some research and I think the test has value." added Jeff Pierson. "I am a strong advocate for parental notification regarding issues such as I am a strong advocate for parental notification regarding issues such as these and I believe that aspect of the test could have been handled better. But I understand why the survey was given, and in the end I trust Dr. Ivie with the care of my child."