By Lisa Capobianco
Southington parents expressed their concern to the Board of Education last week about a survey administered by the Southington Town-Wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS) to middle school and high school students.
Three parents confronted the board about the content of the survey, disappointed that they did not have the opportunity to voice their opinions before their children answered the questions. Over the past three years, STEPS has given seventh, ninth and eleventh graders the survey, which covers topics including suicide, violence, eating disorders, sexual orientation, drugs and sexual activity.
“How do these topics pertain to our school curriculum,” questioned Julie Oreilly, a concerned mother. “My concern is with the way some of the questions were framed. They are almost blue-print-like.”
Oreilly also said she wished that the school district required parents to give permission before her daughter took the survey, wanting more information about the content of it.
Jeanne Segrue, the parent of a seventh grader, agreed. Calling the survey offensive, Segrue said parents should make the final decision on whether or not their children should take the survey.
“I do not want my children exposed to this age-inappropriate content,” Segrue said. “Next time let us as parents see the entire survey, and decide for ourselves when our children are ready for it.”
Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski addressed parents’ concern about the survey, promising to improve communication next time students take the survey.
“Our board’s responsibility is to communicate,” Goralski said during the Board of Education meeting. “Perhaps in this case we may not have communicated to the best of our ability.”
In regards to the content of the survey, which has also been administered to 48 different communities in Connecticut, Goralski said children learn about those topics on prime-time television on a daily basis, and such topics start affecting students in middle school.
“The statistics we have gathered over the years through STEPS do show that those areas are a grave concern starting in the middle school ages,” Goralski said.
Southington school superintendant, Dr. Joseph Erardi, also addressed families, promising to give parents a voice before students take the survey next time.
“It makes sense to offer every parent in grade seven the opportunity the month before at a PTO meeting…to have a conversation around the survey,” Dr. Erardi said. “This is the first time we had parents come to us in the past three years in regards to the survey. Our protocol has been the same: the school board looked at the survey in 2009-2010 and endorsed it.”
Sue Saucier, the director of Youth Services, assured parents during the meeting that no research shows any correlation between reading a question on the survey and performing a self-destructive behavior mentioned in the question.
“Just reading a question is not necessarily going to make a student try any of that,” Saucier said.
STEPS Coordinator Kelly Leppard said parents will receive more information about the survey, giving them the opportunity to express any concerns and to ask questions. In additions, STEPS plans to release the results of the survey next March during its annual Community Forum event.
“It is good that parents brought the survey to our attention,” Leppard said. “The more parents know about these issues, the more successful we will be in making a difference in the community.”