Guest Commentary

Don’t let social workers in Blue Valley schools pry into private concerns of minor students, their families

The Star reported in July that the Blue Valley School District is collaborating with Children’s Mercy Hospital to provide 19 newly hired social workers to meet students’ needs. This seems like good news.

However, parents should be alerted that this could be a part of new comprehensive P-12 standards in Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, adopted by the Kansas Board of Education. SEL is a part of the board’s ambitious Kansans Can vision to redesign school districts, which began with seven districts this fall.

Kansas and only three other states (Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) have developed freestanding, comprehensive P-12 standards for SEL with developmental benchmarks.

SEL standards ask teachers to assess and record data on every student — habits of work rubrics, social and emotional screenings, surveys, self-evaluations, discipline referrals and so on. By some teachers’ accounts, academic standards take second place to SEL standards.

Teachers did not like the cumbersome requirements under No Child Left Behind. SEL expands requirements, turning teaching into observation and data collection.

I understand that the partnership between the school district and Children’s Mercy will address the unmet needs of students regarding mental health and other social well-being needs. But what is considered a need that must be addressed by the school or hospital? Are all this psychological, behavioral and physical SEL data protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 or HIPPA? What happens when school social workers disagree with parents’ wishes for their children?

Have you, the parent, been asked permission to have your child behaviorally analyzed, tested or surveyed?

According to the Student Data Privacy Act passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2014, the parent or guardian of a student must give written permission for the school to administer tests, questionnaires, surveys or examinations about students’ or parents’ and guardians’ beliefs and practices on issues such as sex, family life, morality or religion.

The problem is that the law does not prohibit school counselors from administering tests as a part of their counseling services to students, therefore circumventing the parents.

Does prying into the life of the student create problems in need of solutions?

Just look at a survey used for more than 20 years in Kansas schools. The Kansas Communities That Care Student Survey has been given to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 to collect data on students’ drug and alcohol use. In the hour-long survey, many questions on minor students’ personal lives are asked.

This survey introduces sixth-graders to all the possible drugs they could use, and they are told there are no right or wrong answers. The solution? Random drug testing. Drug use among students is on the rise, and some think this survey is partly to blame for introducing and normalizing drug usage.

Parents, you watch over your children’s physical safety. The time has now come to do your own research concerning the data collected on your children and the questions being asked of them. The latest government fix in our schools, Social and Emotional Learning, needs your scrutiny.

Barbara Saldivar is state director of Concerned Women for America of Kansas.