Sex Survey Prompts New Battle for Parental Rights

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The issue of parental rights is at the center of a controversy in New Milford, Connecticut, where middle and high school students were recently given a survey, at school, asking them explicit questions about topics like birth control and oral sex.

The conservative Rutherford Institute will file a class action lawsuit, possibly in the next week, against the New Milford school system on behalf of parents who believe the school violated their rights as well as the privacy rights of their children.

The survey was handed out to students at New Milford high school and Schaghticoke middle school. Some of the students were as young as 11. Educators said they were concerned that students, including sixth and eight graders, were engaging in sexual activity. In fact, a member of the school system, who asked to remain anonymous, said several middle school students had admitted to having oral sex and were worried about disease.

Thomas Mulvihill, New Milford's assistant superintendent, said, "Counselors were starting to come in and say this sort of stuff was going on...The question the health committee that works for me basically started considering is 'Is this pervasive or not?'"

Although New Milford school officials claimed to know that children in the 6th grade were engaging in oral sex and other risky behaviors, parents were not involved in or informed of the suspected problems.

When asked why parents were not consulted about the survey, the anonymous source said, "It was something that was happening in school. It was being discussed in school...I don't know exactly how to answer what you're asking."

The idea of notifying the parents apparently never emerged as a valid consideration.

According to Mulvihill, the data gathered by the survey "would give us something to talk intelligently about to parents...Then you can have a dialogue that's meaningful and not just 'I heard a story.' It's hard to go to parents and say 'we heard this rumor'. You get into the position like the boy who cried 'wolf' and maybe there really wasn't a wolf there."

Mulvihill said, unlike drugs, sex is something more private which cannot be as easily detected as drug use. The survey, he said, was intended to determine just how pervasive the sexual activity was and if 6th through 12th graders would respond to private questions about their conduct.

"We, in our own heads, know that we're not trying to do anything that's not working in tandem with the parents and we thought this was in the best interests, in doing it, but parents wanted to be more involved," Mulvihille said.

New Milford's superintendent, Dr. Raymond Avery, publicly apologized for distributing the surveys without permission from the parents. The surveys have also been destroyed, without any of the results being tabulated.

Mulvihill also sent out a letter of apology to parents. "We feel like we're ready to move on. I think some parents aren't," he said.

The Rutherford Institute views the case as the outcome of a system which neglects parental involvement to the detriment of children.

"There's this common philosophy out there now that parents are conduits to the system. In other words, they produce the children for the system and the system is the professional educators," said John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute.

"Parents are left out of the system and they only have one recourse and that is to file a lawsuit," Whitehead said. "It's really a parental rights issues. Do parents have a right to know these things?"

"Do the schools have a right to be dealing with the children like they're test subjects? We would say no," Whitehead said.