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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Got a Middle-Schooler? Check This Out

Specifically, do you have a middle school child at JAMS, Whitman, Madison, HIMS, Meany or World School?

If you do, I urge you to tell them that if they are asked to take a survey called Check Yourself, that they refuse.  (It goes by the moniker "SBIRT" which stands for Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral To services. I would give you the webpage at SPS but it is brokenHere's the flyer.  Here's the district's webpage on Prevention and Intervention. It does not state that parents can opt their child out of SBIRT. 



If you do, I urge you to write a letter to your principal and tell them your child is NOT to take the survey called Check Yourself or SBIRT.

I also urge you to contact the Board and request that implementation of the survey be stopped immediately.  spsdirectors@seattleschools.org

I have been investigating this survey - created by King County and called Check Yourself - since a parent in Kent SD alerted me to it.  The Kent School District has suspended its use in their schools.

I still have more questions especially around who sees the answers/data on the NON-anonymous survey, how long it will be kept and how a parent whose child may have already taken the survey can get that data removed.

I believe that it is an overly long and somewhat invasive survey that seems to be in violation of the Board's own policy.
Under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) parents and students over the age of 18 (“eligible students”) have certain rights regarding how Seattle Public Schools conducts surveys, the collection and use of information for marketing purposes, and certain physical exams. These include the right to: 

Receive notice and an opportunity to opt a student out of
1. Any other protected information survey, regardless of funding;



Inspect, upon request and before administration or use –
1. Protected information surveys of students;



Seattle Public Schools will also directly notify, such as through U.S. Mail or email, parents of students who are scheduled to participate in the specific activities or surveys in the protected areas noted above, and will provide an opportunity for the parent to opt his or her child out of participation of the specific activity or survey. Seattle Public Schools will make this notification to parents at the beginning of the school year if the District has identified the specific or approximate dates of the activities or surveys at that time. For surveys and activities scheduled after the school year starts, parents will be provided reasonable notification of the planned activities and surveys, and will be provided an opportunity to opt their child out of such activities and surveys. Parents will also be provided an opportunity to review any pertinent surveys. 

Parents who believe their rights have been violated may file a complaint with: Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20202
To note, many American pediatricians use a gold standard test like the PHQ-9 which is nine questions and has a proven record.  The Check Yourself survey notes where some questions came from which indicates multiple providers wanted a certain kind of data.  That's not a good reason to ask a question.

If they were just screening students:

1) they would use a standard screener
2) parents would be notified like having a hearing test screen
3) medical records would not be generated and saved to a database
4) student medical records wouldn't be sent to 3rd parties organizations outside of the school
5) only school nurses would see the results. Report would then be shredded. 
6) schools would ask for parents written consent
7) there would be no more than 10 questions, and they would be on feelings/behaviors... not student characteristics, family life, and sexuality.
Do not get this survey confused with OSPI's Healthy Youth survey which is given every other year by King County.  That survey is anonymous and just uses aggregate data. 

On the surface, it appears that King County, which has done a Healthy School survey for years, decided that there were too many students possibly at-risk and they want to know who those students  might be.   So KC created this survey and has been piloting it at several middle schools in several districts throughout the county.

Interestingly, here's what parents - at least at JAMS - are told about the Healthy Youth survey at the school website:
Q: Is the survey voluntary?
A: Yes! Students taking the survey can skip questions and stop taking the survey at any time. If you do not want your student to participate in the survey, you can call the school to excuse your student. Students can also tell their teacher that they do not want to take the survey. Students not taking the survey will take part in a different activity, such as studying or reading in the library. There is no penalty for not taking part in the survey. Your student’s grades will not be affected.

Q: What questions are on the survey?
A: Survey questions come from surveys across the nation and in Washington. Parents or guardians can see a copy of the survey questions in the school office.​
Here's what is said at school websites about the Check Yourself survey:
Whitman Middle School is implementing the SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral To services) program in order to best support the social emotional health of our students. Please read the SBIRT Information Sheet and contact your student’s assigned counselor for more information
However, the information sheet says nothing about calling parents (even though it appears that they have to before seeking help for students whose survey answer show distress).  It says nothing about opting out.

Why wouldn't schools be as clear with parents on the Check Yourself survey as they are on the Healthy Youth survey?  Why wouldn't they make it clear it is optional, just like the Healthy Youth survey?  Why not tell parents that the Check Yourself survey questions are also in the office for review?

It's also unclear who is taking it.  It appears that most schools are giving it to all 7th graders but may have expanded it to other grades this year.

I asked SPS and King County several questions about the survey.  One issue is how parents were notified about the survey. Here's what SPS said:
SPS legal approved our parent notification plan, which varies slightly by school.  The main activities are to have an information table at curriculum night and other family events, post information on the SPS website, host a program specific parent education event which includes information on each component the SBIRT program.  Some schools also plan to send out information via PTSA mailings or newsletters.
One, not all parents go to school events.  Two, why would it be on PTAs to tell parents (and, not every school has a PTA)?  Not good enough.

The RIF it says that the survey is HIPAA compliant.  The problem is - as I understand it - is that medical information, even mental health, that is taken in a school is under FERPA.  FERPA and HIPAA do NOT overlap.  And, as I have said over and over, FERPA is a toothless tiger.

I appreciate that districts and the County want to try to help as many kids at possible.  But they have created quite the survey that I think many parents would not want their child to take.  I'll list the questions below and you may judge for yourself.  But consider these issues:

- I was told by SPS Communications that a parent could opt their child out or any child can say no.  However, the survey itself says nothing about opting out.  I checked all the schools' webpages and none of them say students can opt out or parents can opt them out.

- Looking at schools' webpages, there is nothing at Meany or World School or Hamilton.  Nothing.

Here's how the survey starts:

Please fill out these questions to help us understand if you may need or want more support.

The support team at your school may meet with you about your responses.

Your Answers will not be shared outside the support team unless there is a real danger to you or others.


It asks for consent but does NOT say "you can opt-out to taking this survey at any time."   They also don't say who the "support team" is.

Image result for prohibited symbolThe survey sometimes uses words for answers and, other times, uses symbols.  A man is a stick figure in slacks; a woman is a stick figure wearing a dress.  They also use this symbol:


This is odd because later in the survey, they say it means none. According to what I can find in an internet search, it really means something that is prohibited.  None and prohibited don't mean the same thing.
The international prohibition sign (official name), also known as a no symbol, no sign, circle-backslash symbol, nay, interdictory circle or universal no, is a red circle with a red diagonal line through it (running from top left to bottom right), completely enclosing a pictogram to indicate something is not permitted.
Also, there is NO way to avoid answering a question - it grays out the "next" button until you answer.  Most groups/companies advise NOT doing this:
Without being able to skip the question or choose to opt-out, respondents who don’t have a favourite team are left in a tough situation. This will lead them to one of two equally destructive options:

1) Drop out of the survey: The respondent will most likely be frustrated they can’t skip the question they have no answer for. This can lead them to drop out rather than give an untruthful response. Not only will this result in a decrease in both your number of responses and completion rate, but it will also taint the image of your organization in the eyes of the disgruntled respondents who feel that you have wasted their time and cheated them out of the survey’s incentive.
2) Spam Your Results: The other option left to the respondent is to provide an answer they don’t actually believe in. Unfortunately, these responses will be a major source of bias in your results.
Fortunately, by including an opt-out choice like ‘Not Sure’, ‘No Opinion’, ‘Don’t Know’, ‘Prefer Not to Answer’, and ‘N/A’, you can avoid this issue completely. Though having one of these on your survey may make you feel like you’re giving respondents an easy way to avoid making a choice, the increase in completions and decrease in survey bias will be worth it.
On both those reasons, it will hurt the aggregate data especially if kids decide to make up an answer.   The survey has no options as in the last paragraph above.

There are a couple of places where your student has something of an out: for example, if he/she is asked about gender identity and doesn't check one of the 5 boxes, they can write something in. 

Here are the questions.

Questions that I think parents might find objectionable (for various reasons):
    At home, I sometimes or always experience some of the following (Part 1):
    • eating dinner as a family 
    • not knowing where we will sleep 
    • adult(s) insulting/putting down others 
    • attending religious services 
    • staying home alone for a long time 
    • adult(s) drinking too much alcohol 
    • taking care of family member 
    • other
    At home I sometimes or always experience...(Part 2)

    Select all that apply
    • playing games together skipping/missing meals 
    • adult(s) physically hurting others or animals 
    • going out in nature 
    • adult(s) using drugs 
    • moving from place to place 
    • family member serving time in jail 
    • other 
    • none
    Are you currently seeing a counselor or therapist?  Yes   No

    Has something really bad ever happened to you?  Yes No

    I find this a weird question because it is so open to perception.  And, they never ask the kid what it might be or what it is related to (relationship with parents, sexuality, violence, etc.)  It does ask the student if he/she wants to talk to a counselor about it and their feelings about whatever it is.

    This is the last question but I think it should be near the beginning of the survey (in addition to "you don't have to take the survey or can stop at any time").

    Someone from your school’s support team may check in with you about your responses. Is there something you want to talk to a counselor about in private?
    • yes, as soon as possible
    •  yes, in the next few weeks 
    • no thanks 
    In summary, there was not enough notification about this survey, its questions and the parents ability to opt their child out, it is not clearly stated that a student can opt out (unless this is done verbally), it is not clear who sees what data, and it is not clear how long the data is kept.

    Nothing about what may be happening at school except bullying.  Why wouldn't they ask about problems at school with teachers or administration? 

    Lastly, from the FBI in September of this year:
    To inform of the potential risk of cyberattacks, the FBI provided a list of sensitive data collected in schools that includes personally identifiable information such as biometric data, academic and classroom data, behavioral data, disciplinary and medical data. It also includes student web browsing history, geolocation data and IP addresses. 

    “The widespread collection of sensitive information by EdTech could present unique exploitation opportunities for criminals,” the FBI states in its announcement posted last week. “Malicious use of this sensitive data could result in social engineering, bullying, tracking, identity theft, or other means of targeting children.
    Update: To note, this screening was developed in conjunction with work done by Seattle Children's Hospital and the University of WA.  However, it is NOT the same survey that those two entities used initially.  More and more, it appears that kids are being used as guinea pigs for this.

    Mental health in this country is a HUGE issue but I cannot support parents not being totally involved in this effort.  And it's clear they are not.

    8 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    Egad. They should call this the “report your parents as bad parents and label yourself a mental health risk for no reason” survey.

    It’s shameful that SPS legal approved this sort of “notification” process. Inexcusable.

    All types

    Mom said...

    The middle schools could go a long way to assuring kids' mental health by:

    1. Giving them lunches long enough to eat.
    2. Providing recess at least twice a day.
    3. Giving them long enough to go through the hallways.
    4. Allowing them privacy and time to go to the bathroom instead of constricting their time.
    5. Allowing them to go outside during the day.
    6. Fostering positive relationships among kids.
    7. Making the school a cell-phone-free zone so kids interact.

    My kid is an incoming sixth grader at a middle school in Seattle and none of this seems to be happening in her school. She is an extremely mentally stable kid and the environment is fostering unhappiness. The school apparently has enough money for a rather large health center with counselors, but not enough money for recess or bathroom monitors. I feel this problem is larger than the individual school. We have forgotten in this society the basic aspects of happiness.

    Wildcats said...

    After reading this on Monday, I told my kid at Whitman not to take the survey. He said he already took it. He said, don't worry, I made you look good. Oh boy.

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    Wildcats, nice he thought of you.

    newbiewriter said...

    I don't have an opinion on the survey, but thought I should point out that there is actually information about the Healthy Youth Survey on the Meany Middle School website in the news section......here is a link: https://meanyms.seattleschools.org/about/calendar_and_news/news/washington___healthy_youth_survey__information

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    NewbieWriter, Healthy Youth Survey is NOT what I am talking about. That's an anonymous survey.

    The Check Yourself (or SBIRT) survey is not anonymous, asks some fairly personal question and has not been made clear to students or parents that they can opt out. I'm still working on this but I think it's part of a bigger study and that the district itself maybe violating privacy policy and laws.

    Anonymous said...

    I completely agree with what Mom said above about longer lunches, recess and adequate bathroom access for Middle Schoolers. The kids are stressed out and it doesn't need to be that way. We all know it's stressful so let's make this an issue at a District level! (I do think it's ok for kids to have a cell phone at school in case they need to reach us, but not for use in class.)

    Another Mom

    bananafanafofana said...

    This is not the same thing, but my child's elementary school is using or planning to use health data via wearable monitors that is being shared with the 3rd party vendor. They did send an opt-out form, but I don't see why our kids have to be guinea pigs and share data that is tied to them personally with people who are profiting from that data.