On Thursday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives will vote on SB 196, a bill that would make it easier for schools to give non-academic surveys to students.
In 2017, Gov. Sununu signed a bill that requires parental permission before a student participates in a non-academic survey.
A non-academic survey might be used to measure bullying in school, or gauge students’ drug use, for example. Survey results may be used to evaluate school programs or identify schools and students in need of help.
SB 196 would change the “opt-in” system for surveys to an “opt-out” system.
The difference between opt-in and opt-out
Under current state law (since 2017), a student must have written permission from a parent or guardian to participate in a non-academic survey.
There is an exception for the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That survey is conducted every two years and monitors a wide range of behaviors that negatively affect students’ health, from seat belt use to dating violence. Parents may choose to opt-out of that survey, but they do not need to sign a permission slip for a student to participate.
SB 196 would remove the permission slip requirement for all non-academic surveys. Instead, schools would notify parents of a survey at least ten days in advance, including posting the survey on the school website. Parents would be able to opt-out of any survey.
Arguments for and against
Supporters of the current permission slip system argue that non-academic surveys can be extremely personal, so there should be a high standard for parental involvement.
In today’s digital age, there is particular concern that this personal data will follow a student for the rest of his or her life.
Supporters of SB 196 argue the permission slip system creates too much of a barrier to survey participation. Response rates have dropped from roughly 80% to 20% of all students. This makes the survey results unreliable, which can put grant funding for various school programs in jeopardy.
Parents would still have the power to pull their students from surveys.