In June, Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt launched an investigation into the Webster Grove School District after parents complained about surveys in which schools collected personal information from their children. As school surveys asking children intrusive questions about their sexual behaviors, political beliefs, mental health, and family lives become increasingly common, so too has pushback from parents.
Parents Defending Education is a national grassroots organization “working to reclaim our schools from activists imposing harmful agendas.” This mission starts with raising awareness. On its website, the group links to a number of these surveys aimed at school-aged children.
Consider the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which in 2021 sent out an “Integrated Youth Health Survey” to middle schoolers. Questions included: “Have you ever seriously thought about killing yourself?” and “Have you ever done something to purposely hurt yourself without wanting to die, such as cutting or burning yourself on purpose?” The 12- and 13-year-olds were also asked whether they’d had sexual intercourse or oral sex, and, if so, whether they’d used a condom the last time they had sex.
Another 2021 survey, this one sent to Rhode Island middle schoolers, states that “a person’s appearance, style, dress, or the way they walk may affect how people describe them. How do you think other people at school would describe you?” The responses offered for students to choose from include “very feminine,” “very masculine,” and “equally feminine and masculine.” The survey also asks children if they have ever “made a plan” to kill themselves.
California’s “healthy kids survey,” given to high schoolers, states: “Some people describe themselves as transgender when how they think or feel about their gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Are you transgender?” Students are also asked whether they identify as “straight (not gay),” “lesbian or gay,” “bisexual,” or “something else.”
Perhaps it is easier to justify defining straight in relation to gay (“not gay”) when over 20.8 percent of Gen Z-ers identify as LGBT, as compared with just 2.6 percent of Boomers. The controversial concepts of “sex assigned at birth” and “gender” are also presented here as though they are neutral and factual, when really they’re neither.
Given we know that suicidality, like gender confusion, can be a social contagion, introducing the idea of suicide to students through surveys seems counterproductive, to say the least. It ought never occur to a child to make a plan to commit suicide, and, fortunately, it doesn’t occur to most children. So why plant the idea?
What is the point of this information-gathering? In some cases, survey results are being used to justify a radical curriculum, and, in other instances, they can be used to drive a wedge between students and parents. For instance, in Massachusetts, Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School asked pupils their preferred pronouns and whether they wanted school personnel to address them by a different name and pronoun when communicating with their parents/guardians. We’ve seen where this can lead. In Florida, a twelve-year-old girl twice tried to kill herself at school after months of secret meetings with school personnel to discuss her “gender identity,” while her parents were deliberately kept in the dark.
Schools’ priority ought to be education, not indoctrination. And yet many continue to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes more, in these ideological time wasters. Panorama Education is one of the biggest sellers of surveys to school districts. For the 2022–2023 school year, the Hawaii Department of Education gave Panorama $1.4 million to “provide and administer . . . a student social emotional learning survey and dashboard” as well as a “student perception survey.” In 2021, Clark County School District paid Panorama $785,999 for one year of services.
These surveys often lack transparency and, in many cases, don’t provide good value for the money. They are also counterproductive. Healthy and resilient children are outward-looking. They learn boundaries and expectations. These include not having sex, not taking drugs, and not taking their own lives. Occasionally troubled children act out in these various ways. Signs of trouble should be spotted and children in need given support. But neither surveys nor survey makers are the way to do this. Parents are right to push back.