Bill would let schools more easily survey students

Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The House approved a bill Friday that eases restrictions on schools trying to survey students about drug use, sexual activity, exercise habits and other private issues.

The bill reverses action taken by the Legislature in 1999 requiring parents to sign a consent form before children can participate in surveys inquiring about ''personal or private family affairs.''

Instead of requiring written consent, House Bill 408 would require schools to notify parents two weeks ahead of time that surveys would be given.

If parents do not want their children participating, they could then notify the school. Students could also choose not to participate themselves.

Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said the current law has not worked because too few consent forms come back for surveys to be useful.

The lack of valid data has hampered school districts and social service agencies in applying for grants because they cannot show a need for help, he said.

''We clearly need to know about Alaskan students' risky behaviors, and the only way to do that is to ask them,'' Bunde said.

Opponents said the bill rolls back efforts to limit government invasion into people's lives and protect parents' rights.

''Parents need to be the final arbiter of when the kids are even confronted with the questions,'' said Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River.

Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said without good data, schools cannot judge whether programs they have in place to discourage unhealthy habits, such as use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, are working.

Of particular concern is the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national study that seeks information on a range of behavior that affect health, including drug and tobacco use, diet and exercise, seat belt use, sexual activity, and physical violence.

The response rate in Alaska dropped from 64-66 percent before the law passed to 29 percent in 2001, Bunde said.

The bill passed 30-8, with Reps. John Coghill, Eric Croft, Dyson, Hugh Fate, Jeannette James, Vic Kohring, Bev Masek and Jim Whitaker voting no.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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