An annual state survey of student drug, alcohol and tobacco use is "invaluable in crafting prevention strategies to combat substance abuse," according to the Kansas City Star, but a new Kansas education law's provisions may be inadvertently impairing the delivery of accurate data.
The Kansas Communities That Care survey annually asks students about substances they misuse, how often and about their risk perceptions, garnering an average of 100,000 responses. However, the new Student Data Privacy Act (S.B. 367), which came into effect on July 1, 2014, could dramatically reduce the response level to a quarter of that, Michelle Voth, executive director of the Kansas Family Partnership in Topeka, told the Star.
That is because Section 5 of the Kansas Student Data Privacy Act requires that: "No test, questionnaire, survey or examination containing any questions about the student’s personal beliefs or practices on issues such as sex, family life, morality or religion, or any questions about the student’s parents’ or guardians’ beliefs and practices on issues such as sex, family life, morality or religion, shall be administered to any student en- rolled in kindergarten or grades one through 12, unless the parent or guardian of the student is notified in writing that this test, questionnaire, survey or examination is to be administered and the parent or guardian of the student gives written permission for the student to take this test, questionnaire, survey or examination."
According to the Star, "Since the substance abuse survey touches on family life issues, a number of school district attorneys decided that the law applied. And as there wasn’t much time before pre-enrollment packets containing parental permission slips went out last summer, some districts decided to sit out the substance abuse survey this year."
One of the law's authors admitted to the Star that they knew, “in the name of protecting student privacy, there would be unintended consequences.” However, stakeholders are obviously upset and looking to amend the law to exempt data collection for anonymous surveys in this year's legislative session.
Federal law already has similar restrictions on data collection, in the Protection of Pupil Rights Act (PPRA). Perhaps if this amendment proposal in Kansas works, we could consider it at the federal level, too?