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Senate Releases Schools Legislation to Allow Anonymous, Voluntary Student Health Surveys

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale that would allow school districts to administer anonymous, voluntary surveys concerning student health once prior written notification has been provided to parents and legal guardians was released today by the Senate. The bill would let school districts incorporate an “opt-out” mechanism in order to administer a survey of student behaviors. Data from these surveys assess everything from sexual behavior and attitudes to drug and alcohol use to nutrition and exercise habits to bullying and gun violence.


“In the best interests of the health and well-being of our society, and in an effort to keep our children safe and sound in both mind and body, education and health officials need to be able to obtain unbiased data on student health that will give a representative sample of the student population,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “This data can be helpful in developing public health initiatives and prevention programs for issues and / or illnesses that might otherwise go undetected.”


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of “active permission” reduces student participation rates by as much as 50 percent unless extraordinary follow-up procedures are implemented. In contrast, passive parental permission presumes a parent or legal guardian has consented to the survey unless notice and an opportunity for the parent or legal guardian to deny permission is provided.


Notifications would be delivered by regular mail, electronic mail, or a written acknowledgment form to be delivered by the student at least two weeks prior to administration of the survey assessment, and would include, at a minimum, a description of the survey; the purpose for which the survey is needed; and a list of the entities and persons that would have access to the information generated by the survey.


The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 24-15.