Print this page    •   Back to Web version of article

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.

Back to other CDC news for April 24, 2003

Previous Updates

Excerpted from:
Washington Post
04.23.03; S. Mitra Kalita

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

General Disclaimer: is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, consult your health care provider.