Concerned Kansans say student data privacy provisions infringe on parental rights

    Supporters of a bill heard in the House Committee on Education, chaired by Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, say current student data privacy provisions on the administration of certain questionnaires is ignoring parental rights. (Pool photo by Evert Nelson/Topeka Capital-Journal)

    TOPEKA — The Kansas House Education Committee has recommended a bill for the second straight year amending the state’s student data privacy provisions relating to the administration of certain surveys and tests.

    State law currently prohibits the administration of surveys, tests or questionnaires that contain questions regarding issues like sex, family or religion unless the school provides prior notification and receives permission from a parent to participate. The measure would amend that law to require that the school send a paper copy home to parents before they consent.

    Linda Highland, who holds a degree in secondary education, testified to three distinct issues she saw with these surveys. Her primary concern was that these tests are disturbing student learning and harming their maturation.

    The Kansas Communities That Care Youth Survey, or KCTC, for example, contains questions exposing children to negative social norms, she said. One question she cited asked sixth-graders “on how many occasions” had they tried drugs, including Tyrexatine, Vicodin and Xanax.

    “I believe the KCTC Survey is a teaching tool that trains students in many dangerous lifestyles, just by the very reading of the survey,” Highland said. “What youth focus upon comes about in their lives. By taking this survey, a young sixth-grader is fully introduced to the world of drugs and fully informed on all possible dangerous activities of which they could become involved.”

    The bill was recommended favorably by the committee with only Rep. Linda Featherston, D-Overland Park, in opposition. An identical bill proposed last year received unanimous support from the House Committee on Education.

    Highland also pointed to leading questions within the test resulting in invalid data. She said students are told the test answers will not matter and noted some cases in which children would fill out the worst possible scenarios to finish the test as fast as possible.

    This data is often used to establish school programming or requirements, Highland said.

    “After statistical analysis of the surveys, it may be determined that the students in the school district have problems so serious that the next obvious step must be drug testing. So, the answers did matter after all,” Highland said. “If they come up positive on the real drug test with consequences, it could mean suspension, having it reported on their school record for at least two years and off extracurricular activities. The positive things in life are taken away.”

    The bill had no opponent testimony this session.