17% of Steamboat middle-schoolers opt out of Healthy Kids Colorado survey | SteamboatToday.com

17% of Steamboat middle-schoolers opt out of Healthy Kids Colorado survey

Steamboat Springs School District administration building. (Photo by John F. Russell)

About 17% of middle school students in the Steamboat Springs School District opted out of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey this year, after questions about sexual activity and consent were added for the first time.

The survey is administered every other year and collects anonymous responses from students between sixth and 12th grade to shed light on health-related behaviors and attitudes of the state’s middle and high school students. In Steamboat, sixth graders don’t take the survey.

But additions to the middle school survey this year led some parents to believe it goes too far, with questions about using contraception, drug and alcohol use, and thoughts of self-harm.

About 103 of 1,354 seventh to 12th graders opted out of the survey, or 7.6%. But 82 were in seventh or eighth grade, meaning about 1 in every 6 students in those grade levels opted out.

Some schools and districts opted out of this year’s survey entirely, but Shelby DeWolfe, behavioral health and restorative practices coordinator for the district, told the Steamboat Springs Board of Education on Monday, Jan. 10, the survey data has been invaluable for the district and throughout the community.

“We read about and hear about in the news and across the nation issues like vaping, suicide, substance use, depression and many other epidemics that are sweeping the nation,” DeWolfe said. “This data helps us gauge these issues in our local youth so we can make informed decisions on how to support and prevent this in our own community.”

Data from the 2009 survey revealed substance use was more prevalent locally than around the state, DeWolfe said. This triggered the district and other community organizations to offer more preventative education and support services.

The district and local nonprofits also use the data in grant proposals, and it is used to complete community health needs assessments. Data can also be used to highlight good health choices students are making, DeWolfe said.

Board member Kelly Latterman said numerous nonprofit leaders have reached out to emphasize the importance of participation in the survey and the data it provides. But Latterman also said she has had some long conversations with parents uneasy with the survey.

In one conversation, a parent was concerned questions implied students were engaged in sexual activity, Latterman said. But the skip logic used in the survey would not have shown a student such a question, unless they had already answered they were sexually active.

“If a student indicates that they do not partake in a particular behavior, they are not asked about those behaviors more than once,” DeWolfe said.

When communication about the survey was sent to parents, it included every question on the survey, many of which students would not be asked. DeWolfe said state researchers have studied how asking these questions affects students, and they found it poses minimal risk, similar to if a student stumbled upon these topics online.

Parents needed to opt their student out of the survey, rather than being required to opt in. DeWolfe said 98% of schools that conduct the survey use an opt-out system, as well, and this method ensures results are more accurate. If response rates were to drop below 60%, it wouldn’t be considered as representative.

But the district did not properly opt students out of the survey, and about 20 high school students whose parents had opted them out of the survey were sent a link to take it. DeWolfe said when the district was alerted, it deployed tech personnel to remove access for these students, and only a few appear to have actually realized they could view the survey.

“There was no malice, and the intent was not to be deceitful,” she said. “But the reality is it did happen, and we have to own that.”

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