Parents win one; Fitchburg amends a survey policy.
When it comes to education, personal responsibility and parental rights have been in retreat for far too long, as parents have ceded more and more control of their children's academic, moral and spiritual instruction to others. One Fitchburg mother has now made a difference by pushing back.
Last February, Arlene Tessitore objected to the Fitchburg schools administering the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to her daughters. The survey seeks a bevy of very personal information about feelings, behavior and sexuality, with the intent of assessing which students might be at risk, and whether school officials should intervene.
The intentions behind a survey may be good, but it matters greatly how the information is obtained. Ms. Tessitore objected to Fitchburg using passive consent - if the permission form was not returned, the schools presumed parental permission for minor children to take the survey.
Ms. Tessitore fought that policy and won. The Fitchburg School Committee will now use active consent, in which parents must give their written permission.
We encourage other districts that use such surveys to follow Fitchburg's lead.
We offer no judgment on the utility of these risk surveys. Whether they are a useful, important or necessary tool for public schools to use in serving their populations is a matter for school boards, parents and others in each city and town to determine for themselves.
But this much should be clear: Asking very personal questions is a matter that should require explicit, written consent of each child's parent.
Doing so achieves three things. Most immediately, it gives parents and children a chance to discuss these surveys to make certain that both are comfortable with the child's participation. More generally, such a policy encourages greater parental involvement in education, which is invaluable for better communication.
Perhaps most importantly, such a policy sends a message that schools still respect the parent-child bond for what it has been throughout history - the first and most important link in every human being's education.