Parents of Severance Middle School students were left in shock last week after students were asked to complete a survey assignment for a mandatory class, called Empower. The survey asked kids 200 questions, and many of the questions were not provided to parents in the school’s ad hoc permission slip.
The permission slip was simply enclosed in an online newsletter; parents weren’t asked to sign the slip or return it. Many parents now claim that they never saw the questionnaire coming, and they are upset that their kids were asked questions that were not contained in the permission slip’s link for parents to view survey questions.
The version of the survey that Severance Middle School parents received, found here, does not contain questions about firearms in the home. The survey also doesn’t mention sexual partners, police, or several other topics that Severance kids say they were asked by UC Boulder.
More troubling, UC Boulder states that this survey has been disseminated to middle school students in forty to fifty Colorado schools.
When Jenna, a concerned Severance parent, emailed UC Boulder to inquire about the survey’s deviation from what parents were given, the response from Sabrina Mattson of UC Boulder stated that there are several different attachments to the survey, which parents should have been made aware of:
“I reviewed the survey administration procedures for Severence Middle School and you are correct the consent form that you and other parents received did not include the link to the optional scales, it only included the link to the core items on the survey. Our survey is set up such that all schools are asked to include a core set of items on their survey and also have the option to include customizable optional scales. Since our survey is administered online and schools can select optional scales tailored to their needs it is not possible to provide a link to each school’s customized survey on the consent form. However, parents should have received a consent form that included the link to the optional scales and the list of scales that your school chose to include on the survey. I’m sorry that the consent form we provided did not clearly indicate that there were additional scales included on the survey and that we didn’t provide a link to the optional scales. The list of optional scales your school chose to include are as follows: good condition of campus, acceptability of aggression, witness to bullying, attitudes favorable toward gun violence, weapon carrying, access to firearms, gang participation and presence of gangs, feelings of depression, suicide risk, bonding time with family, parental control and monitoring, parental, parental support of academic achievement, and involvement in school activities, involvement in community activities, self-injury, eating disorders, risky behaviors, physical health and status and exercise, value on health, uses injury prevention strategies, academic self-efficacy, and self-regulatory self-efficacy. The core survey and optional scales that your school chose are attached. We will review our procedures and are making changes to our consent form process to ensure that this does not happen again. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do. Best, Sabrina.”
“Are there any guns such as a rifle, shotgun, or handgun in or around your home or motor vehicle? (Include those kept in a garage or outdoor storage area).
If yes, what kind of guns are they?
- Handgun(s) (like a pistol or revolver)
- Rifle(s) or shotgun(s)
- Other kind of gun(s)”
Sabrina Mattson, Research Director, Safe Communities Safe Schools, IBS Center for the Study & Prevention of Violence, states that the school should have asked for explicit permission for all “versions” of the survey, and she will ensure this does not happen again. But Severance parents are enraged; one father states that he must now explain sex to his autistic son, and another says her daughter, the child of a police officer, was made to feel extremely uncomfortable by the questions.
Another set of questions asks middle schoolers to survey equality and racism in their schools, topics many students aren’t ready for. Those who have been raised to believe that critical race theory is the racist sham that it is, were hardly expecting questions aimed at ethnicity and “inclusion.”
UC Boulder’s Center for the Study & Prevention of Violence states on its website that “Now is the time for that to change. In these times of great sorrow, many wonder what they can do to prevent these tragedies. A key violence prevention strategy involves individuals and communities reporting concerning behavior.”
Apparently, UC Boulder’s idea of “reporting” is asking minor children questions that will be used to determine access to firearms in their homes.
The study was funded by a grant, and schools such as Severance received a small stipend for “allowing” middle school students to participate. Sabrina Mattson does not have any information to provide regarding the grant given to UC Boulder, nor does she have information about what this survey is used for.
UC Boulder’s Center for the Study & Prevention of Violence was not able to provide any further information about the survey. For now, the department can only reassure parents that the misstep at Severance Middle School was an isolated incident. Mattson is quick to reassure us that this shouldn’t happen again; schools should be obtaining permission from parents to ask students such far-reaching questions. Additionally, Mattson reassures parents that the survey is anonymous, taken from students’ school-issued Chrome-books.
For the students who have already been asked these questions, without their parents’ permission, that reassurance is too little, too late. The survey and its many versions seem intentionally shielded from parents’ watchful eyes.