Today, at work/school, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) jotted a list of topics to work on. Among them were the developments in actions his school district is taking to comply with Florida laws, Department of Education edicts, and gubernatorial tantrums.
Like a good French restaurant with its soupe du jour, it seems we are in for an extended period of controverse du jour. Today, it’s the biennial survey of secondary students known as the YRBS, or Youth Risky Behavior Survey.
This week, the results of the 2021 survey were released and they were alarming. The middle-school and high-school age students of GOT’s district reported that
- Nearly 1 in 4 middle school students (24.4%) made a plan to die by suicide
- More than 16% of high schoolers reported attempting suicide in the 12 months before the survey
- More than 21% of high school students and 17% of middle school students said they abused prescription drugs
GOT is sorry to have to link to a news report. He went to the actual website, duval.floridahealth.gov, but it seems that they deleted the page that presented the full results:
Elizabeth Anderson, a former school board member, reported this on Twitter:
GOT replied in confusion because he’s thinking that for two weeks he’s been told of the March 9 deadline for him to complete the survey in his school and have it back in district hands. Was this referring to the 2023 survey?
GOT received a reply to his email that District personnel were packing the materials this week and would ship it to the schools next week. It seemed that the 2023 survey was proceeding as it had for the last decade. (GOT was made the School Assessment Coordinator (SAC) for his high school at the beginning of the previous school year and overseeing these surveys is part of his job responsibilities.)
But this is late. Normally, the survey materials arrive at school sites in late January. What was the hold-up? GOT had his suspicions and now it seems that they are true.
Before we reach the end of tonight’s tale, let’s divert into the actual survey process. If the box had arrived, it would have contained instructions for administering the survey, a list of the classes selected to do the survey (it’s only a few; the survey is a sample randomly chosen), cards for the students to use to log into the survey as it went online last time around, and most importantly, a parent notification letter that must be sent home to every selected participant’s parent to give them the opportunity to opt out of the survey.
That takes about a week. The letters are given to the students, you have to allow for absentees to get it the next class, and parents need to have time to send it back to the school. Opted-out students do not take the survey and the returned opt-out letters are sent into the district at the end of the survey.
Even if a parent does not opt a student out of the survey, students have the right to refuse. Last time, almost an entire class at GOT’s school refused to do it. It was probably that the socially dominant members of the class refused and the rest followed. But that doesn’t matter. We cannot force students to do this. It cannot be part of a class grade as it would be unethical to give a failing grade in biology, math, ELA, or even P.E. because the survey has nothing to do with the learning objectives of these classes. We cannot write discipline referrals. Again, that would be unethical as students have the right to say that they are not comfortable taking the survey and that they won’t do it.
Further, students can do the survey and skip any question they don’t want to answer. Before becoming the SAC, GOT would tell his students to be mindful of their privacy and that they could skip any question they didn’t want to answer. GOT would let them get started and then deliberately would sit at his desk and not watch the students as they answered the questions so that the students would feel confident that no one could match their responses to them.
Even when it was paper-based, GOT would place the envelope at the front of the room (his desk was in the back) and the students would put their survey in the envelope when they were done. Afterward, GOT would make a big show of sealing the envelope without looking inside to give students assurance that their responses were truly confidential and anonymous.
That’s the other part of the survey to understand. While asking about youth behaviors deemed risky takes us into deeply personal areas of their lives, the responses cannot be tracked back to any student.
The justification for the survey is that some youth are engaging in risky behaviors: tobacco, drug, and alcohol use; sexual activity; self-abuse like cutting; and having suicidal thoughts. To what extent are these prevalent among our youth? We as adults can sit around and speculate endlessly, but it’s like a teacher meeting GOT attended a few years ago when everyone was offering their opinion as to why few students wanted to be in the International Baccalaureate program. GOT grew impatient with it. If we wanted to know why students didn’t want the program, we should ask them.
Yes, if we want to know what youth are thinking, planning, and doing, we only have to ask them. They are very painfully honest in answering the questions if they know their answers cannot be tracked to them and they will face no consequences.
But the survey results give a necessary measurement of youth safety and health. Knowing the results, school and health department officials are able to plan how to address the concerns and seek funding.
Back to the story. GOT was planning to do a piece about the upcoming survey and publish it this week detailing what you have read in the paragraphs above about the process and what is found in the survey questions.
But then this tweet appeared tonight:
Surprise and yet not a surprise. GOT had suspected that the lateness of getting the YRBS underway was because the district was not going to do it given the Anderson report of complaints about the data gathering and questions. And yet, the school district had said nothing to its employees:
But then he found the story. News outlets in Jacksonville are reporting that the school district is canceling the survey.
Whiplash! Back and forth, back and forth, up is down, blue is red, purple is a beautiful thing until Top Gov decides otherwise. Then the brown flows down and you know the word <ahem> GOT is referring to.
If this keeps up, Jacksonville will earn a national reputation to rival the Luray Caverns in Virginia. The caving-in to DeSantis whims has been impressive.
2 thoughts on “Whiplash”
It appears that the current state administration would rather stick their heads in the sand than to learn anything … especially that we have a youth mental health issue/crisis that most parents would want to know about. When we know better, we do better; apparently not in any department of this Florida administration. Sigh.