Parents and students: You don’t have to take the survey

Without parental consent, schools cannot require a student to answer questions about: their political beliefs, mental problems or challenges, sexual behavior or attitudes, illegal or self-incriminating behavior, critical appraisals of people with close family relationships, relationships with lawyers, doctors and ministers, religious beliefs or practices, or income level (unless asked to determine participation eligibility).

These eight areas are considered protected information under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) and as such, schools that receive federal funding are required by federal law to inform parents of any survey or questionnaire that gathers this information and to obtain their prior written consent for their child to participate.

“As it relates to social and emotional surveys, like those conducted by Panorama Education, parents do have the right under PPRA to opt out,” according to Parents Defending Education.

Parents should ask their principals what the opt-out process is in their district. Many have district-specific opt-out forms that simply need to be signed and turned in to school officials. … Follow up with your school to make sure the form was recorded. If your district does not provide an opt-out form, ask how to opt out. 

Additionally, parents have the right to inspect, upon request, a survey created by an outside entity that a school district wants to distribute or administer, along with any supplemental material (such as a teacher’s manual) that comes with the survey. “Critically, this applies to all gender and race-related materials,” according to the America First Legal Foundation.

Students can also tell their teacher they do not wish to take in-class surveys, questionnaires, or emotional “check-ins.”

The Sartell-St. Stephen school district made national headlines summer of 2021 over an equity survey they commissioned Equity Alliance Minnesota — an outside entity — to conduct that appeared to violate federal and state laws, as well as the district’s own policy. Families say a student was instructed to hide survey questions from parents, including a question about gender identity. The organization has since been shut down.

A recent example includes a “Morality Test” allegedly given to certain students at Mankato East High School in September. The survey asks respondents to rate highly inappropriate scenarios on a scale of “not OK” to “OK” and concludes by using those responses to then assign political affiliations. The principal of the high school sent out communication on Sept. 15 noting it was being investigated and that “appropriate action will be taken at the conclusion of the investigation.”

Curriculum review

For other materials, Minnesota state law requires districts to have a procedure in place for a parent to review the content of the instructional materials provided to their child and, if the parent objects to the content, make “reasonable arrangements” with school personnel for alternative instruction.

Further, if the alternative instruction offered by the school board does not meet the concerns of the parent, that parent may provide alternative instruction. No repercussions or academic penalties can be imposed on the student for arranging alternative instruction.

Source: Minnesota Statute 120B.20