In the wake of privacy concerns and other complaints raised by parents and residents, Rapid City Area Schools is temporarily shelving biennial behavioral surveys it gives to middle and high school students.
The four surveys, developed by the Rapid City-based Chiesman Center for Democracy, question students anonymously. One of the surveys focuses on risky behavior, including sex, drugs and alcohol.
Superintendent Tim Mitchell said those topics have been included on every behavioral questionnaire the district has done with the Chiesman Center since 1999. Similar surveys have been given to Rapid City school students since 1989.
But Mitchell halted the surveys after state Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, and school parents and other residents objected on Friday, asserting the surveys could conflict with a new South Dakota state law.
Senate Bill 63, which Jensen co-sponsored and took effect in July, states that students are not required to take school surveys questioning them on a variety of topics including political affiliations, mental-health history, religious beliefs, illegal activities or sexual attitudes or experiences.
Mitchell said parents and students already had the right to decline to participate. Traditionally, the survey has provided raw data used for grant applications and information for counselors, principals and policy-makers on where to pinpoint services for pregnancy prevention and substance-abuse counseling.
Mitchell said he wanted the district's lawyers to take more time to examine potential legal complications, if any.
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The 2012 survey conducted throughout Rapid City schools showed the percentage of students admitting they drank, or drank and drove, grew from their freshman to junior years.
Among students surveyed that year, 16.6 percent of students admitted to driving drunk their freshman year, compared with 19.4 percent who said they did in their junior year.
North Middle School Principal Danny Janklow said the data gathered were invaluable for district schools to key in on their students' struggles, although he admitted some children will be less than truthful about some of their after-school activities.
"It's foolish to believe our kids are not involved with sex, alcohol and drugs," he said. "We get some really good data in terms of what risks our kids are involved in."
Calling the data "real world information," Janklow added: "It's what our kids face these days. It shouldn't be politicized. That's just my opinion."
Targeting students, especially when they have family members and others close to them with substance-abuse issues, was essential, he said. When he asks students if they know people close to them with drug or alcohol problems, "I don't find too many people not raising their hands," he said.
Chiesman Center President Robb Timm declined to comment to the Journal, because he said Mitchell had requested he not talk to the media on the matter.