Local and Community News
Fairfax County, Virginia Cancels Student Survey on Sex, Drugs
April 24, 2003
A company hired to administer a controversial survey asking Fairfax County, Va., students about their experiences with alcohol, drugs and sex has cancelled it out of fear that parents may sue. The wide-ranging survey designed to gauge risky behavior was to be administered to 10,000 randomly selected students in the sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades. But Channing Bete Co., a survey and publishing company based in Massachusetts, asked the county to absolve it of any potential legal risk -- and county lawyers said it was impossible to do so under Virginia law.
Hotly protested by many parents, the survey had more than 100 questions on topics ranging from smoking and suicide to weight loss and family relationships. Questions about sexual behavior were to only be asked of sophomores and seniors. Survey participation was to be on a voluntary basis. Questions ascertaining sexual behavior included, "How old were you when you first had sex?" and "Have you ever had oral sex?"
A similar survey given in New Jersey resulted in parents suing the company that distributed the questionnaires without parental permission. New Jersey now requires such consent before students can take surveys or tests that ask for family, medical, political, or financial information.
County officials, who focus health curricula and apply for grants based on survey results, said they attempted to persuade Channing Bete -- which usually does not include questions about students' sexual behavior -- not to withdraw. "We explained to them that we just cannot give a broad-based indemnification. ... But it was a business decision on their part" said Karen Harwood, deputy attorney for Fairfax County.
Laura Yager, director of prevention services for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, said a 2001 survey helped to obtain more than $1 million in grants and led to a revamping of alcohol and drug programs, based on findings that Fairfax seniors had a higher binge drinking rate than the national average.
04.23.03; S. Mitra Kalita
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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.