NJ Bill Requires Parental Opt-In for School Surveys

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New Jersey's General Assembly approved legislation this week that would require schools to obtain written parental permission at least two weeks before a child in kindergarten through 12th grade could participate in a survey, regardless of the purpose or sponsor.

The legislation would prohibit New Jersey schools from administering any academic or nonacademic survey without obtaining parental consent if it would reveal political affiliations, Social Security numbers, drug history, a family's financial status, mental or psychological problems, sexual behavior and attitudes, or illegal or anti-social behavior that may exist in the family. It would also protect other "legally recognized privileged" relationships, such as those with the clergy, doctors and lawyers.

The bill, A 2351, was introduced May 8 by Assemblymen E. Scott Garrett and Guy F. Talarico. The Assembly approved the legislation by a vote of 55-16, with five abstentions.

Schools violating the measure could be fined at the discretion of the state's commissioner of education.

The legislation applies to surveys used by the institutions themselves for school programs trying to deal with social ills or by direct marketers who may ask schools to collect the data on their behalf for programs they are running.

"The bill [would apply to] direct marketers who conduct surveys among high school kids under the auspices of the school; then they could be impacted by this," Talarico said. "But, if they are doing surveys independent of the administration of a school, then this would not affect that."

The measure, which has moved to the state Senate, was patterned after the opt-in provision of a major education funding bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives -- the Education Opportunities to Protect and Invest in Our Nation's Students Act, HR 4141. The act was reported out of the full committee April 13 by a vote of 25-21.

That provision, which requires written parental permission for children to participate in education-related market research programs, was added at the request of Rep. George Miller, D-CA, in a vote by the House Education Committee in mid-April.

The provision is similar to an amendment to an education bill currently on the U.S. Senate floor. This provision would require all schools receiving Elementary and Secondary Education Act funds to require parental consent before collecting information from students for commercial purposes.

The act, called the Student Privacy Protection Act, was introduced by Sens. Richard C. Shelby, R-AL, and Christopher Dodd, D-CT. The Senate bill will most likely be voted on by the end of this session.

The amendment establishes a process to ensure informed parental consent. It requires school districts either to seek signed parental permission for marketers to survey students and collect marketing information from them, or to have school boards announce the marketers' plans at open meetings. The amendment, which allows schools to seek federal funds to help provide parental notification, also applies to situations in which marketers receive anonymous information from students.

Specifically, parents must be informed, in writing, of the data that would be disclosed about their children, including: whether such data are personally identifiable; to which person or entity the data would be disclosed; how the person or entity would use the data; the amount of class time, if any, that would be consumed by gathering and disclosing the information; and the dollar amount, if any, paid to the school under the agreement.

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