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Bedford parents say surveys given to students breached trust

BEDFORD — There will be a lot of discussion before any surveys are presented to students in the future, said School Board Chairman Terry Wolf.

Several parents voiced dissatisfaction with the board and administrators for how they handled two surveys that were given to students in March, primarily one given to Ross A. Lurgio middle-schoolers asking about sexual orientation, gender identifications and sexual activity.

Richard Villeneuve said he questions the district’s method in administering the survey and using the results, even with the best intentions. Trust, he said, once it’s breached cannot be earned back.

“There’s been a breach of trust here. That’s what the citizens are telling you. You’re here to serve the citizens of this community, not some special-interest group or some data-mining company,” Villeneuve said.

The survey, which has caused controversy and angered several parents, was intended to seek responses about high-risk behavior so the district could analyze trends, said Superintendent-elect Chip McGee at the board’s April 21 meeting.

McGee addressed several questions he has received from parents about the survey, including whether identification numbers where used, how false responses are taken into account, reasons for asking about sexual activity and gender identifications, federal laws protecting students’ rights and privacy, whether questions would encourage risky behavior, and what are the district’s next steps.

The 160-question survey presented to students in Grades 7 and 8 has been given every four years, but this is the first time a shorter, 58-question survey was given to Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 9 and 10. McGee said parents had the opportunity to opt out and students did not have to answer any uncomfortable questions.

Students in Grades 3 to 6 were given randomized passcodes to associate students’ responses with grade level and ethnicity, with no individual identification numbers requested; middle school students were not asked to provide identification numbers; and students in Grades 9 and 10 were asked for identification numbers.

However, McGee said the intention at the high school was to have one technical coordinator look at the demographics, but identifying information was deleted.

“Given the concerns that that clearly raised, once we collected the surveys back I directed the administrators at the high school to take all those identifications off the pieces of paper,” he said. “It means we don’t know the demographic results from the high school survey. We don’t know grade levels, ethnicity or gender. Given the concerns and the need to make sure of the board’s and the community’s trust, it was important to get that done.”

Representatives from the Coalition of Bedford Youth said the surveys are needed to address trends for high at-risk behavior and to provide programs and education for students and parents. The organization collects the data and presents a report to the district and the community on its website,

Jonathan Zdziarski said he is displeased because the district made his child uncomfortable by being asked sexuality questions, providing misleading letters to parents, and he asked the board to take disciplinary action against any administrator involved.

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