Participation automatic unless parents sign ‘denial of permission’ slip

By Linda Bentley | February 24, 2010

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CCUSD – Parents recently received a letter from the district, that is, if students actually presented the letter to their parents, regarding their child’s participation in the Arizona Youth Survey, a needs assessment study sponsored by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.
It states the survey results will be used to assess current substance abuse and/or other prevention programs in place and assist with developing future substance abuse prevention programs in the community.

The letter claims the survey is anonymous and students will be instructed not to put their names on the questionnaire. It states, “No one will be able to connect any individual student with his or her responses. School staff will not see any students’ responses.”

It also states, “Participation in the survey is voluntary. Your son/daughter may decline to participate at any time or skip any question they do not wish to answer.”

The letter says the questions cover alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and community factors related to substance abuse.

It goes on to say, “We hope that you will agree to allow your child to participate in this statewide effort that will help create better, more effective programming to combat the problem of alcohol and drug use by youth in our community.”

Then, in bold, it states, “If you agree, you do not need to do anything … if you do not wish your child to participate, please complete and return the attached denial of permission slip,” bolding ends where it states, “and your child will be excused from participation.’

The letter was accompanied by page one of the survey and stated the materials used in the survey are available for inspection in the principal’s office.

According to Jeneen Zucker, a Cactus Shadows High School parent, the rest of the questionnaire was only available by “pulling teeth” for two hours in Assistant Principal Jackie Beazley’s office.

The letter sent home was generic and where it should have been signed by the school principal, it was signed: “Sincerely, (name)” The letter included no information regarding when the survey would be given, which hour of class time the students would be missing and what the students who opted out would be doing during that period.

The district failed to fill in the (contact name) of the person to which the “denial of permission” slip should be returned or the date by which it needed to be returned.

When parents are sent home a “denial of permission” slip, there is no way for the district to know if parents actually received it, or if a parent signed to opt their child out if the student simply neglected to turn it in.

It appears the district utilizes “denial of permission” slips to ensure maximum participation in programs that may be controversial, whereas for field trips parents are still asked to sign permission slips.

The first page of the questionnaire only asks for demographic information, such as whether the respondent is male or female, age, grade level, race, if they are Hispanic or Latino, language spoken at home, and who they live with most of the time.

Zucker noted there is a place for a serial number on the questionnaire and wondered if that couldn’t be used as an identifying feature in combination with the demographic information being provided by the student.

It also includes instructions, stating, “All of the questions should be answered by completely filling in one of the answer spaces. If you do not find an answer that fits exactly, use the one that comes closest. If any question does not apply to you, or you are not sure what it means, just leave it blank. You can skip any questions that you do not wish to answer.”

For questions that have the following answers from which to select: NO!, no, yes or YES!, the instructions are as follows:
Mark (the big) NO! if you think the statement is DEFINITELY NOT TRUE for you.
Mark (the little) no if you think the statement is MOSTLY NOT TRUE for you.
Mark (the little) yes if you thing the statement is MOSTLY TRUE for you.
Mark (the big) YES! if you think the statement is DEFINITELY TRUE for you.

Questions that fell into that answer category included: “In my school, students have lots of chances to help decide things like class activities and rules; I feel safe at my school; My teachers praise me when I work hard in school; I think sometimes it’s okay to cheat at school; It is alright to beat people up if they start the fight.”

Some of the questions utilized improper grammar, such as, “I think it’s okay to take something without asking if you can get away with it.”

The survey asks about gambling, smoking, use of marijuana, alcohol, crack cocaine, LSD, amphetamines, and use of prescription drugs to get high.

The section on neighborhood and community asks, “If you wanted to buy a handgun, how easy would it be for you to get one?” The answers from which to choose include “Very hard, Sort of hard, Sort of easy and Very easy.”

It asks what the chances would be they would be seen as cool if they smoked cigarettes; worked hard at school; began drinking alcoholic beverages regularly; defended someone who was being verbally abused at school; smoked marijuana; carried a handgun; or regularly volunteered to do community service.

The survey asks students if they are receiving free or reduced lunches; if any of their relatives have previously been in prison or jail; and if they’ve heard about the gun violence program, Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Students are asked how wrong they think it would it would be for someone their age to bring a handgun to school; steal anything worth more than $5; pick a fight with someone; stay away from school all day when their parents think they are at school; drink beer, wine or hard liquor regularly; smoke cigarettes; smoke marijuana; and use LSD, cocaine, amphetamines or another illegal drug.

The next section includes questions such as how many times in the past year they carried a handgun; sold illegal drugs; stolen or tried to steal a motor vehicle; participated in clubs, organizations or activities at school; been arrested; taken a handgun to school; seen someone attacked with a weapon other than a gun, such as a knife, bat, bottle or chain; and seen someone shot or shot at.

The last question asks, “How honest were you in filling out this survey?”

The answers range from, “I was very honest” to “I was not honest at all.”

After running the survey by an attorney, Zucker said she was told “The district should be reading students their rights before answering since they could be admitting to criminal activity.”

Since the “denial of permission” form doesn’t state when the survey will be administered to district students, Zucker is encouraging anyone with similar concerns to contact her at 480-488-7894.