The Bulletin Board

Bill to require parental permission for youth risk survey fails

By: - May 20, 2022 1:26 pm
State House on a sunny spring day

The House and Senate each passed different versions of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey bill but were unable this week to agree on a compromise. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

A bill that would have jeopardized the ability of child advocates, public health leaders, and law enforcement to identify and address youth health risks has died. 

House Bill 1639 would have required parents to grant permission for their child to participate in an anonymous survey that asks high school students about their exposure to substances, sexual activity, abuse and bullying, and home life. 

Currently, parents can prohibit their child from taking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the results of which guide public policy and secure funding to address youth health risks. 

The bill’s opponents, which included health and law enforcement leaders, said the challenge of getting parents to fill out the permission form when they get so many forms from schools would have limited participation and put needed grants in jeopardy. 

The House and Senate each passed different versions of the bill but were unable this week to agree on a compromise. Several lawmakers on the compromise committee appeared close to an agreement – but the bill’s sponsor voiced strong objections to a last-minute amendment. The proposed change would have kept the survey opt-out but required school boards to approve administering it and, if they did, schools would have to give parents 14 days’ notice so they could opt their child out.

Rep. Glenn Cordelli, a Tuftonboro Republican, said during a meeting this week that questions about sexual partners and parents’ views on drug, alcohol, and tobacco use were irrelevant to measuring risky behavior. He also noted that Florida’s Department of Education recently announced it would stop using the test and track student behavior with its own survey. 

Cordelli highlighted several questions from prior years’ surveys he felt were off-base.

They included asking students if they identified as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual; were underweight or overweight; and whether they had talked to a parent about the dangers of tobacco or drug use. 

Also irrelevant, Cordelli said, were questions asking whether a parent had been in jail or the military; looked out for their basic needs like food, water, and safety; would be concerned they were drinking alcohol daily; and whether they had had sexual contact with males, females, or both.

“I think they have nothing to do with risky behavior,” he said.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.