Surveys, and notice thereof, draw fire at meeting

School Board
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

   Surveys given to Monticello students about their feelings, and the amount of notice given to students and parents about such surveys, were big discussion topics at a special meeting of the Monticello School Board Nov. 9.

   The discussion centered around surveys that were presented to students in October, called “Social-Emotional Learning: Student Competency and Well-Being Measures.”

   The surveys represent a screening process, which, according to an email sent to parents from high school counselor Kathy Larson, “enables the counseling team to identify academic and behavior concerns and utilize different intervention levels to address these concerns.”

   Questions in the survey had to do with students and their feelings. One set of questions asked, “During the past week, how often did you feel…?” It then inserted the emotions of excited, happy, loved, safe, mad, lonely, sad and worried; and asked students to address each one, using a scale ranging from “almost never” to “almost always.”

   Also on the survey, it states: “Your answers will help us better support you and other students, and will not affect your grades or show up on your report card. You can skip any question you don’t feel comfortable answering.”

   Troy McDonald, parent of a Monticello fourth-grader, spoke to the board about the surveys. He said high school parents were given just two days to opt their children out of the survey/screening process, which he said wasn’t sufficient notice.

   He added that the survey was administered to children in the elementary schools without any notification going to each parent, which he said is a violation of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA).

   McDonald recommended that the district make greater efforts to inform parents about upcoming surveys, including notifying them at registration, in the monthly School Spirit newsletter and the school calendar, and posting each survey on Facebook and emailing it to parents.

   Board member Mark Rieken backed McDonald’s concerns.

   “I feel this is highly an invasion of privacy,” Rieken said. “We dropped the ball here.”

   Superintendent Brian Jaeger responded by stating there are two groupings of surveys, ones from the federal government that are protected information surveys, for which parents must give consent; and ones where such consent is not required according to a district policy that was updated and approved in June of this year.

   Jaeger said the surveys that went out in October did not fit the definition of protected information surveys, according to district policy.

   “I’m just trying to follow the policy the way that it’s written,” Jaeger said.

   Jaeger also noted that the surveys are designed to try to address potential social-emotional issues before they become too serious. If, for example, violent acts occur in a school, “those are examples when afterward people say, ‘What could we have done?’” Jaeger said.

   “We’re trying to do something. We’re trying to be proactive.”

   “Then publish it,” Rieken responded.

In other board business:

   • The board tabled approval of a solar plan for the district, largely because two of the board members, John Schlarmann and Mandy Norton, were not present. The board may take it up at the Nov. 28 regular meeting.

   • Curriculum director Robyn Ponder gave a presentation on district/school assessment data, mostly coming from results of Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress testing.

   This topic also generated discussion, as board member Rieken stated that he was “pretty concerned with the data.”

   While the data indicate large percentages of students showing proficiency in the tested areas of English, math and science, there were several grades that showed low percentages of students in the advanced category.

   “I think we’re really doing some disservice here to our kids if ‘advanced’ is so low,” Rieken said. “It tells me we are way, way behind.

   “We’re just looking at data. We’re not actually delving into, what are we doing in this district, that’s different than other districts, that we’re getting these numbers, which are lousy.”

   Ponder responded: “I’m right with you. We’re above the state (averages) in a lot of those things in the ACT (American College Test), but we’re not performing in ISASP to the advanced level, and that’s a big concern. We definitely are working on plans so that we can try to address this.”

   • The board approved application to the School Budget Review Committee (SBRC) for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) allowable cost in the amount of $83,269.31. This gives the district spending authority for this program.

   • The board approved several personnel appointments, as follows: Callie Kromminga-Smith as district-wide coordinator for the English Language Learners (ELL) Family Literacy and Outreach Program, Travis Kelchen as night custodian, Robert Gatts as assistant high school wrestling coach, and Jacob Oswald as volunteer high school boys basketball coach.


Subscriber Login