Parents upset by "sex test" at Hardy Middle School

Photo by The Georgetown Dish
The first page of a survey administered at Hardy Middle School
The first page of a survey administered at Hardy Middle School
When she picked up her 12-year-old son at Hardy Middle School last Tuesday afternoon, "Susan" knew something was wrong. Her son looked "disturbed," his father said later. Susan asked her son what had happened at school. A test had been given in a health/physical education class filled with 7th-grade boys and girls.

One classmate called it a "sex test."

"What is your gender?" was the first question. The choice of answers:

a) Male
b) Female
c) Transgender (M to F)
d) Transgender (F to M)

The 12-year-old was slightly bewildered. He noticed other children seemed confused.

The questions became more graphic:

"How sure are you that you....

...Can name all four body fluids that can transmit HIV.
...Know the difference between oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
...Can correctly put a condom on yourself or your partner.
...Will avoid getting yourself or your partner pregnant if you have sex.
...Can convince a reluctant partner to use barrier protection (i.e. condoms, dental dams) during sex."

The 12-year-old, even more confused, asked an instructor about some of the terms. "What is this? I don't know what this is," he told the facilitator. Children ventured guesses as the instructor -- brought in on a DCPS contract -- started to define "anal sex" and "oral sex."

Susan (not her real name) called her husband at the office. She was practically in tears. He was outraged.

Other parents heard about the "sex test" from their kids. "The school is making us take a sex survey," one child told his mother. 

Whatever the intent of the program, neither Susan nor her husband had given informed consent allowing their son to be part of a program that went far beyond how they would have handled instruction in the mechanics, responsibilities, ethics and moral behavior of sexual activity of their 12-year-old.  Also of considerable concern, they had not been informed that, nor had they been asked for consent for their son to be involved in a pre- and post-program evaluation probing his response to questions about sexual practices and illegal drug use.  As far as Susan and her husband were concerned, the program came out of nowhere and was totally inappropriate for their child.  When they demanded an explanation, their strong feelings were at first brushed off by school administrators, who told them that the survey had been administered following
Questions from the Metro TeenAIDS survey at Hardy (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Questions from the Metro TeenAIDS survey at Hardy
normal procedures.

Meanwhile, upset parents called, texted and e-mailed each other to try to understand what had happened. One child was so upset by the test, a parent told The Georgetown Dish, he hyperventilated.

How was the sex survey launched at Hardy with so little vetting and how was it determined that it was appropriate for a 12-year-old? 

In the spring of 2008, Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee touted a new program in her FY09 budget for DCPS children that she promoted along with extracurriculars like music and Model United Nations programs. "Model Schools will support expanded extracurricular programs such as athletics, the DC Youth Orchestra, the Hispanic Youth Symposium, Metro Teen AIDS, the Model UN and others," her testimony stated.

Metro TeenAIDS, a nonprofit aimed at educating children about HIV/AIDS, received a $15,000 consulting contract and $80,000 contract from DCPS in 2009 to provide programming in the schools, as well as over $750,000 in federal funding in recent years, according to FedSpending.org, a program of OMB Watch.

According to a 2009 introductory letter from Metro TeenAIDS addressed to parents, "Your child is part of a program offered by DC Public Schools in partnership with Metro TeenAIDS and City Year DC called Making Proud Choices!"

The letter went on, "This program has been selected by DCPS for instruction to meet [health learning standards] for the middle school grades and is used in 7th and 8th health classes (sic) throughout DCPS."

Questions from the Metro TeenAIDS survey at Hardy (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Questions from the Metro TeenAIDS survey at Hardy
The program was not just for education, but for research. The letter notified parents that, by participating in the program, their child would be a "research subject" in a program funded by the federal government. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with "Metro TeenAIDS, and City Year would like to gather information from the students and would like your child to participate."

The letter warned parents that the survey questions "may make your child feel uncomfortable" or have "an emotional reaction." The letter informed parents that they could have their child "opt-out" of the evaluation or the program itself.

But parents never received these warnings before the "sex test" was administered Tuesday at Hardy. Only after parents demanded a meeting with Principal Dana Nerenberg and other officials were they given a copy of the actual test, two days after it was administered to 7th-graders at Hardy. 

As they reviewed the subject matter and the vocabulary of the survey, the parents grew even more outraged.

"During your life, with how many peopled have you had sex (oral, vaginal, anal)?"

"In the past 30 days on how many days did you...

...Have 5 or more drinks of alcohol in a row, or within a couple of hours?
...Use marijuana?
...Use other non-injecting drugs (like cocaine, PCP, ecstasy)?
...Inject drugs with a needle like heroin)?
...Have sex?
...Have sex after drinking alcohol or getting high?"

Metro TeenAIDS' letter to parents, which was distributed to the children during the class in which they took the sex survey, said that due to the sensitive and potentially incriminating information being gathered from the students, "The questionnaire is confidential -- no one will be able to match your child with the answers that he/she provides."

Yet, when a parent demanded that her child's test form be returned, Metro TeenAIDS officials identified the correct child's test and returned it to his parents, despite the organization's guarantee of anonymity.
(Photo by: The Georgetown Dish)


Calls and e-mails to Metro TeenAIDS and the press office of Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee were not returned.

Next: A closer look at this program of Rhee’s education reform, its loose interpretation of D.C. health and human research standards, and DCPS’ failure to get informed consent for testing of minors.   




0 Comments For This Article

Over the River

Wonderful. Now parents can reign holy terror on their child when they read the results of a survey he or she was told no one would know their name.

Anonymous Grad Student

Honestly, I don't know why this is so upsetting. I had health class in 6th and 7th grade, and this is exactly what we talked about (I'm 23 now). Just doing the survey was probably stupid, they should have discussed the content first, but parents are just being self-righteous. The kids were bewildered because they were new concepts. This stuff is only scary because we act like it is.

JoeS

Not to sound snotty, but we received a similar test in the 1980's. They've added a couple of questions, because more is known about HIV/AIDS, but still...

I fail to see the reason for the outrage here.

Bill Smith

Yet another reason to home-school your children. Sending your children to a government school is the same as child abuse.

Anonymous

Oh, come on. This test isn't any different from the ones I took in junior high. These kids NEED to be educated about sex from responsible adults some time before their teenage years because eventually they're going to learn about it; better from a responsible adult rather than another horney, immature, confused peer, right? Hey, I learned about sex when I was eight, and I have no regrets about my first experience, and I've never been infected with an STD of any kind. And my peers whose parents opted them out of sex ed? Four got pregnant before they graduated (one actually got pregnant in both 8th and 12th grade), one had three abortions before she graduated, several of the got nasty reputations for promiscuity, and several caught STD's. All because their parents wanted to protect them from the evils of sex. By the way, treating sex, which is a natural part of human existence, as something that's taboo or wrong is only going to cause repression and shame. Teach a kid about it, give them all of the facts, teach them how to be responsible about it, and inform them of any dangers or consequences involved--what they do with that is their choice. Educated about sex or not, they'll always have a choice. Better to be informed than not, no?

Texas Educator

I do not agree with the manner in which the survey was conducted, or the age group that was surveyed. However, I do see the good part in the entire manner. It will force parents to talk to their children about the subject matter in the survey. Granted, many parents will talk with their kids, or have already, but many will never admit to themselves that their children deserve to have the talk about sexuality for their own sake. Maybe a little more foresight will be used the next time the headmaster decides to hand out surveys that are paid for by the school budget.

Anonymous

This isn't concerning. In today's age education of these serious situations is necessary. People learn about sex earlier and earlier, using the internet and the TV media.

If a school takes the mantle to do what parents should be doing, then it might be a failure on the parent's part. Honestly, not telling a pre-teen about sex so that they'll be knowledgeable if a situation arises is...Rather unfortunate.

A young man should at least know about HIV once he starts hitting puberty. He should know how to contract it and how to avoid contracting it.

This survey should be an eye-opener. These young men and ladies do not know how to be protected.

Adam Tenner

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Metro TeenAIDS (MTA) has been providing reproductive health education in DC Public Schools for more than eight years. has had a long and positive relationship with DCPS using the “Making Proud Choices” program, an approved curriculum designed for middle school students that addresses pregnancy prevention, HIV and STI prevention.

Metro TeenAIDS uses “Making Proud Choices” in middle schools and “Be a Responsible Teen” in high schools. Both of these highly evaluated programs meet the DC Health Learning Standards, are designated “Effective Behavioral Interventions” by the federal government.

The “pre-test” Hardy students were given was not a test at all, but rather an assessment used to determine the students’ baseline knowledge and to responsibly assure that students get all of the information and skills they need to protect themselves.

We regret that the opt-out forms did not go out before the first day of class. We strongly believe that parents have a role to play in providing HIV/AIDS and reproductive health education. In fact MTA offers an Adult Peer-to-Peer Education that provides parents with communication skills and techniques for engaging their children in effective conversations about reproductive health and disease/pregnancy prevention.

Metro TeenAIDS supports a parent’s right to “opt-out” of the reproductive health classes offered in schools. We spoke with the concerned parent last week who called us with her concerns. We tried to address her specific issues as best we could. As of today, we have not heard from other parents.

Reproductive health education in schools has always elicited strong feelings. However, Washington, DC is currently the HIV/AIDS capital of the US and it is our mission to employ the best science and curricula to help create an “HIV Free Generation.”

Metro TeenAIDS has buried more children from HIV than we like to think about. In 2007, we lost one of our favorite peer educators, Monica, to HIV. She grew up in DC and often talked about having only 10 minutes of HIV education in 10th grade and how that was not enough. She died at 21 having been infected in her teens.

Teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are all preventable. A solid foundation in health education which includes reproductive health education is a key part of any effort to ensuring the health of DC youth.

•Our local rates of Chlamydia are 16 times the national average.
•DC teenage pregnancy rates are three times the national average
•The 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated that by middle school, 22.8% of DC students have already had sexual intercourse.

Metro TeenAIDS is committed to seeing that there is an equitable distribution of high quality reproductive health education.

-Adam Tenner
Executive Director
www.metroteenaids.org

marucucu

Why can't Americans just be reasonable and rational? How about age appropriate sex education as information about a normal part of being human so that you don't have to talk about anal sex with pre-teens. No sex education leads to earlier, uninformed sexual activity, often committed upon young girls by older males because they can prey upon their naivete.

Emiko

A note - there is a distinct difference between anonymity and confidentiality. In an "anonymous" survey, no identifiers of any sort are used. In a "confidential" survey, mediating identifiers are used. This means that two separate files exist - one file contains randomly generated ID numbers and the names of the people they belong to. The other file contains all of the responses to the survey questions, linked only to the random ID numbers. When data are released publicly or to other researchers, only the response file is released, and never the file that links ID numbers with people. IRB standards generally mandate that the file linking ID numbers with people is kept on a password-protected disk or server inside of a locked room. The only people who can match the survey to the survey-taker, then, are the small number of people who are actually administering the survey.

There are a lot of reasons why surveys are often "confidential" instead of "anonymous", including ensuring that nobody submits the survey twice, or being able to look for demographic differences between those who responded and those who didn't respond to narrow the possibility of non-response bias. Confidential surveys generally produce more accurate results than anonymous surveys.

At any rate, your last paragraph is misleading -- the survey promised confidentiality, not anonymity. It appears from the scan asking for a Unique ID Number that they were following standard procedures for confidentiality.

Anonymous

I think parents are more afraid of having to face the results than anything else.

Even though I'm sure parents convince themselves otherwise, I would bet a good part of this is not wanting to have to thin about what your middle school child might be doing.

I lived in a somewhat wealthy suburb growing up, where parents believed it was "nice" for anything bad to happen. And yet in middle school I knew of kids having sex and smoking cigarettes in the bathrooms. It got so bad they closed all but 2 bathrooms in the building.

The truth of the matter is that lots of kids aren't cared for or supervised as much as they should be and they need this kind of stuff.....and those that aren't left to fend for themselves frankly won't be as hurt by it as parents think. There's nothing inherent about a 12 year old that makes it wrong for them to know what sex is, other than how we've been trained or would like to think about 12 year olds.

Unfortunately, the truth here isn't convenient, so it will be covered up by rage.

anon

I'm proud of the school. Parents need to hurry up and tell their kids about the world. If they don't the kids are going to find out some other way or end up doing it not knowing its wrong.
Students should be able to ace the sex test by 7th grade.

anon

yes, because asking kids if they know what oral is must be child abuse. get over yourself, kids today are having std and pregnancy problems at young ages because no one is giving them advice.

AnothaMotha

Yeah, why can't Americans be rational about sex? 11- and 12-year-olds should TOTALLY be given in-depth, hands-on, very detailed explanations and instructions that show them exactly what anal sex is, and oral sex, without their parents knowing about it.

They should also be shown very, very detailed photos of things like herpes and gangrene of the extremities and how to inject a needle into their veins. Yeah! Awesome!

All of this without their parents' knowledge, of course, because kids have a right to as much sexual freedom as possible, as soon as possible.

Perhaps these same instructors should encourage kids to engage in some of these activities in front of the class, sort of hands-on instruction, and then any parents who are stupid enough to object could be labeled "close-minded" and "backwards."

Anonymous

Ok. All you morons out there who think these questions are appropriate for a twelve year old should be more than just ashamed. And the educators who supposedly have the childrens best interest in mind and still let this abomination into the classroom should be fired. Come on now.. These questions to a twelve year old are selacious at best and borderline criminal at worst. It's almost as if the online pedofiles and sexual predators have wormed thier way into the classroom via the cloak of education. Totally disgusting.

Anonymous

The problem here is NO ONE INFORMED THE PARENTS PRIOR TO THE IN-DEPTH QUESTIONNAIRE. Yes, children are engaging in sexual acts much younger these days and education is important. But I will tell you now if it had been my child I would be outraged by the school's neglect to inform parents first. Sure there are some parents who do not want their children taught about this stuff at that age, and THAT IS THEIR RIGHT. Parents have the RIGHT to parent THEIR CHILD as they feel is right, and you may not agree, but why does that make you right and them wrong?!I personally would prefer to have the opportunity to talk to my child prior and be aware that the class is being given so when he comes home with questions or uncomfortable I atleast have some small chance to prepare for the reactions and questions he may have without being blindsided that my 11 yr old went to school happy about being there and came home uncomfortable and asking questions that would make some adults I know blush. I had health class in 7th and 8th grade, but I do remember talking with my mother before hand and feeling glad that she did. It gave both my mom and me a chance to be prepared for the inevitable. I wasnt so weirded out and my mom and I could talk about it alot better than I think we would have if it had been different. The school should not have went forward with the survey without sending the parental consents, and giving ample time to recieve the consents back. No consent, no survey.

Randy

All of you morons who blieve this is a appropriate should be ashamed. All those teachers who, supposedly, have our childrens best interest in mind and still let this abomination into a Middle School classroom should be fired. It's as if the child stalkers, pedofiles, NAMBLA, etc... etc have wormed their way into the children under the cloak of education. Geesh. Sad... Very sad indeed.

Anonymous

Education need to be privatized so that parents will have a choice whether to send their kids to a school conducting such surveys or not.
I bet that the filthy government bureaucrats who came up with such surveys and force them on our children will lose their jobs as a result of choice in education.

Anonymous Grad Student

AnothaMotha- Yes. Absolutely. It should be age appropriate, but it should be detailed and accurate. I personally don't care AT ALL about the parents opinion, but I understand that the school does (after all, school boards already let over concerned parents dictate literature lessons and what constitutes scientific fact).

And as for the the herpes pictures, that is totally already a part of most abstinence only sex ed programs, because nothing is a better teacher than abject terror.

And age of onset of puberty is frankly the factor that determines what type of sex ed they should be getting. Prior to 6th grade, there should be sex ed that focuses on inappropriate touching and how to get help. Sixth grade you get the puberty talk and basic sex ed, expand in years after that.

Your last paragraph is just silly and reactionary, especially since the condom on the banana demo is far and away the most effective hands on demonstration possible.

Chainsaw

The whole point is that kids this age are ALREADY HAVING SEX. If you can't understand THAT part, OF COURSE the rest is going to go over your head.

Now given that at least some of the kids in this group ARE having sex - hetero, homo, whatever - should they know what they are doing and the consequences of it, or should they not? And should the authorities know whether they know or not?

Anonymous

Wake up, people. Have you turned on a TV or picked up a magazine in the last ten years? Lady Gaga etc? I remember Marilyn Manson singing rock songs and that was the end of the world, now we have filth on every channel and in every picture, and you don't want your kids to be thinking of being safe? Remember when you were 12? You knew about anal and all that crap already. There's a reason you have public schools, so crazy assed parents can't ruin their kids by trying to censor them, only to have them released into the world totally bewildered and confused for lack of knowledge.

anonymous

One can only hope that supporters of sex education can tell the difference between that and INVASION OF PRIVACY.

Eric

The problem with the joint DCPS/ MetroTeenAIDS response is that it FAILS to address:

1. whether it is their common practice at every school to collect personal information (name, birth date, age, zip code) from each student WITHOUT PARENTAL CONSENT;
2. how the personal information collected in the past is linked to results that demonstrate the success of their program in DC schools;
3. whether any other DCPS sites experienced the same level of poor contract execution that took place at Hardy;
4. why it is acceptable for the identical survey is used for 12-13 year olds and for college and post graduates aged young adults; and
5. why a syllabus outlining the course content and approach WAS NOT SHARED WITH PARENTS for a 12-week program that DCPS/ MetroTeenAIDS acknowledge is sensitive.

If school administrators and MetroTeenAIDS truly sought the trust of parents over their children's educational needs, common sense would have dictated that they show more integrity and forthrightness in their response to engender trustworthiness.

Mary

If the information provided is correct, Wash D.C. is the "HIV Capital" of the US. It was also stated that the program in question has been part of the D.C. Schools for 7 years. If this is correct, the "survey" -and the "sex education/awareness" it provides, is failing in its effectiveness. While I agree that sex education and information, by parents and schools, is critical for young teens in our society, perhaps this program and its inability to deter the HIV rate in D.C should be re-examined. It seems that some of the questions create curiosity and suggest that these activites are "normal" behavior. Obviously, the current program is lacking and needs to be better at meeting the goals for which it was intended. As a parent of a 12 and 17 year old, I would be outraged at the way this program is presented. There are other less offensive options for presenting this material.

Researcher

The dim bulb that constructed this survey obviously knew NOTHING about research. And it obviously wasn't cleared by any competent committee for the protection of human subjects at a real university (institutional review board).

A survey CANNOT be both anonymous and confidential. They implied that it was anonymous (it obviously wasn't) but called it confidential. That means that, yes, you CAN be identified.

Any first year master's student would be tossed for doing this kind of survey without getting informed consent. While there is an "exempt" approval process for curricular data collection, it does not apply for sensitive data. Any competent IRB would call asking 12 year old kids about their anal sex behaviors "sensitive."

Sheesh. Someone should lose their job.

Susan Cruz

The United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world and people are griping over a survey?
Gripe all you want, the fact is that children are exposed to a culture of sex and violence, regardless of parental denial or shock. Nothing "sells" unless it has some sort of sex or violent underlying theme. Just look at the shows on TV, listen to the lyrics of music kids listen to, and check out the movies and video games targeted to teens.
If you are a parent and you are doing your job right then you are having honest and open conversations with your children about relationships, sex, preventing STD's and unwanted pregnancies, etc. before someone else does. Otherwise, you're doing a sorry job as a parent.

mystra

Being a fairly liberal parent of an 11 year old I can tell you I find this insane. Knowing about, teaching and speaking about sex, drugs and all of that is a good thing starting around that age. Kids now know much more than I did when I was 12. BUT the issue at hand I believe is more the fact that these kids were being asked if they had done any of these things. That's an inappropriate thing to be testing for in a school even in a health class. The fact that the test was supposed to be confidential but then the company was able to locate a specific child's test is screwed up. The parents might just have legal grounds to sue. In fact since the notification of the test was never given to the parents before the test they all just might have legal grounds to sue.

BrothaFromAnothaMotha

I agree, parents should chill out and let kids explore!

Concerned parent/pharmacist

Frankly, I am not surprised at all. If you remember who Mr. Obama appointed as our "Safe School Czar" {Kevin Jennings}, and if you remember Mr. Jennings is into overtly promoting homosexuality in our schools, has a history of past drug abuse, and has open contempt for religion, it's not surprising. Probably the most disturbing thing about Mr. Jennings is the evidence of a detailed an incident in which Kevin Jennings did not report an underage student who told him he was having sex with older men. But with this Presidential Administration, obviously, character and morals are not important. I'm not surprised at all. I'm sure there will be much more shocking things to come. God help us!

Anonymous

There's no mention in this story of any effort to get comment from the principal or DCPS. Did you try to get the other side of the story? How many angry parents did you speak with? The guy who commented on behalf of the program says they've heard from exactly one angry parent. Is this all just a lot of noise being caused by one unhappy family?