NJ's Whitman Vetoes School Survey Bill

New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman earlier this month conditionally vetoed a bill that would have required schools to obtain written parental permission at least two weeks before a student could participate in a survey, regardless of the purpose or sponsor.

The legislation would have prohibited 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 as well as illegal or anti-social behavior that may exist in the family, mental or psychological problems, and sexual behavior. It also would have protected other “legally recognized privileged” relationships, such as those with the clergy, doctors and lawyers.

The legislation would have applied 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 restrictions would have covered students in grades kindergarten through 12th.

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

Whitman, about to leave office to join the Bush administration as the nation's top environmental official, said in a veto message to the legislature late last week that the bill did not comply with federal law.

The governor recommended it be changed to require a parent's or guardian's written permission to participate in a survey only if the survey deals with sensitive personal and family issues.

She also recommended that the measure be amended to require school authorities to provide parents with a detailed note about the survey, explaining why the information is needed, what it is to be used for and how parents can refuse to allow their child to participate.

The state Assembly approved the bill, AB-2351, last summer. It 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.

A spokeswoman for Talarico said that the assemblyman is looking into Whitman's objections and may reintroduce the bill.

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