Montgomery student survey asked about income, views

Montgomery schools officials Tuesday discarded the results of a student-created survey of 10th-graders at Poolesville High School after a parent raised concerns about the nature of questions that asked about family income, political affiliations, religion and sexual orientation.

The five-page survey also probed student views on marijuana, same-sex marriage, blame for the government shutdown, the sale of assault rifles and whether President Obama would face equal criticism if he were white.

Schools officials said the survey was designed by students as part of a project in an Advanced Placement course on national, state and local government. The class was studying polls, surveys and trends.

Student pollsters had planned to correlate views on current events with demographic data. School officials said Tuesday that students took the surveys anonymously and that neither teachers nor students would have been able to link individual students with demographic information.

Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said the idea was well intentioned, if flawed. “The kids were very excited about it,” he said. “They had worked hard on it.”

Still, he said, “the survey was asking some inappropriate questions — questions that should not be asked of students in a school.”

The survey was given to some students in class, and teachers posted it on Edline, an electronic system for grades and assignments, so other students could take it outside of class, according to Montgomery schools officials.

The school system received only one complaint about the survey, Tofig said.

On Tuesday, Deena Levine, Poolesville’s principal, spoke to teachers, who told her the intent was to create an authentic poll based on criteria in the AP curriculum, Tofig said. Levine “made it clear” that the surveys should not have been posted on Edline, that some questions were inappropriate and that the survey should have been cleared with administrators, Tofig said. The poll has been taken down, and results will not be tallied, he said.

School officials said the results of the survey were intended for use only by the high school’s AP government classes.

The issue came to light Monday night at a town hall meeting in Clarksburg hosted by Montgomery County School Superintendent Joshua P. Starr. Shortly after a question-and-answer period began, a mother held up a printout of the survey and read it aloud with clear distress.

Starr told her that school officials would investigate. “It is not in any way, shape or form an MCPS-sanctioned survey,” he said.

Judy McKenney, a Poolesville parent, said her son took the survey Monday on Edline while in class. She asked whether the answers could be linked to his account. School officials said Tuesday that Edline may have been used to access surveys, but it did not host them.

McKenney said she would not have minded a poll asking for student opinions on current events, but she found questions about parental income and other family information inappropriate.

“I’m just curious why they did it, what they’re going to do with it and why they did it without parents’ consent,” she said. She said her son found it odd to be asked for family information, including household income.

He checked the box that said, “I have no idea.”

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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