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Missouri school district notifies parents of controversial student surveys

The Webster Grove School District (WGSD) in Missouri sent a letter to parents earlier this month notifying them about surveys that will be administered to students.

The surveys have been surrounded in controversy as some parents and outside groups have alleged the surveys collect personal information on students without the consent from their parents. This has prompted the Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, R., to launch an investigation into several school districts with Webster Grove being one of the school districts involved in the probe.

“In continuation of our efforts to support the academic and personal well-being of each WGSD student, district surveys will be administered to students in grades 3-12, families, and staff. Surveys will solicit participants’ perspectives about learning strategies, culture and climate, and experiences in the classroom adan/or school,” the school district’s letter to parents stated. “The surveys will allow for students, families, and staff to offer feedback specifically about school safety, their sense of belonging, teacher-student relationships, cultural awareness and diversity and inclusion.”

Earlier this year, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group, called on Schmitt, to investigate WGSD into whether the school district was violating the privacy rights of students and their families by having students fill out surveys that include questions about their sexual orientation and the political beliefs of their parents. A spokesperson for the school district at the time said that the surveys were voluntarily and parents are able to review the questions.

In a Tuesday press release, the Southeastern Legal Foundation encouraged parents to learn about their “right to opt-out of student surveys that illegally obtain sensitive information about their children. These surveys collect data about students’ sexual behavior and attitudes, political beliefs, mental health status, and even the beliefs and mental health status of students’ family members and friends.”

However, amid the state attorney general’s investigation, WGSD sent a letter to parents explicitly outlying the surveys students will take this year and the opt-out option available.

“Parents and guardians will be able to complete a brief online opt-out form to exclude their child from participating in each of the district’s Culture and Climate surveys for the 2022-23 school year. The opt-out form will only need to be complete once per school year,” the letter stated.

“The form will be available the week of September 5 and will need to be completed by 11:59 p.m. on September 23. Given the length of the survey, students have opted-out will be given the opportunity to do other tasks (homework, study, reading on their own) during the brief period of time surveys are being completed.” The letter also stated that parents will be able to review the surveys by September 9.

The Southeaster Legal Foundation encouraged parents to know about their opt-out rights.

“We are very pleased that in response to our brave clients speaking up, requesting an investigation into illegal student surveys, and demanding the chance to opt their children out, that the Missouri Attorney General launched an investigation and the school district provided parents notice and opt-out details. This proves that parents can make a difference,” Kimberly Hermann, general counsel for the Southeastern Legal Foundation said.

WGSD commented back in May that it signed a $19,000 contract with Panorama Education, Inc. to help administer surveys for the upcoming school year. It is unclear if they are involved in the surveys the school notified parents about. Panorama said in May that all decisions about survey content and how they are administered are made by the school district, in addition to what topics and questions are asked.

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