What's your religion? Your sexual orientation? Your parents' political affiliation? Should "assault rifles" be banned? Who's to blame for the government shutdown?
Do these sound like questions that high school sophomores should have to answer?
A Maryland high school that is "Common Core" compliant -- as described to TheBlaze by a representative -- allegedly administered a survey to its sophomore class that pried for personal information in a way that was apparently so invasive and intrusive that two parents contacted TheBlaze to show it to us.
When TheBlaze asked the Montgomery County School District about the survey, at first officials denied its existence. When we presented parents' claims that the survey was indeed posted on the school’s education web portal and that it was given to students without the ability to opt out, an official with the school district denied those claims too. However, in less than an hour, it was scrubbed from the Internet.
Eventually Dana Tofig, the school district's public information officer, acknowledged the survey's existence and confirmed that it had been removed. He did, however, insist that students weren't required to take it and that it was actually a volunteer project put together by students, not teachers. Parents insist the survey was an assignment put together by teachers, but some student input was also allowed.
What kind of survey questions could be so disturbing as to cause parents, who have asked to remain anonymous, to contact TheBlaze? Here is just one example. (Please know that the survey contained grammar and spelling errors that we have not corrected.)
If President Obama were caucasian how much more or less criticism do you think he would he recieve? (sic)
- A lot less
- Somewhat less
- No difference
- Somewhat more
- A lot more
The sophomores at Poolesville High School were allegedly told that the survey was part of a lesson about polls and demographics. Instructors assured students that they were taking an anonymous survey -- although, the sophomores in at least one classroom were told to log into their Edline accounts, the parents claim. Edline is an online education support system for parents, students and teachers.
Once logged in using their online names and passwords, students filled out the multiple choice questionnaire, according to the parents.
Image: Screen grab - Edline.net
The parents say the survey wanted to know some pretty sensitive information about students and their families. Among the topics were race, religion, sexual orientation, living situation (one parent, two parents, single parent, etc.), parents' political affiliations, thoughts/feelings on Obamacare, and who is to blame for the government shutdown.
As mentioned above, when we first saw the survey, TheBlaze contacted the office of the Montgomery County School District, the largest school district in Maryland and the 17th largest in the nation. Just after 6 p.m. on Monday, Tofig saw the survey and sent the following response:
This is not a survey that Montgomery County Public Schools distributed. I am trying to find out if this was distributed in our schools and by whom. But this was not distributed by the staff of MCPS.
We again contacted Mr. Tofig, insisting that the survey appeared to be distributed through the district's online Edline system. He responded via email, saying "If it was on our website, please send a url. I don’t see anything like that."
One of the parents who was not pleased about the survey happened to be checking the Edline system on Monday evening, shortly after we contacted the school, and noticed that it had disappeared.
In another coincidence, Monday night, the Montgomery County School district was holding a Town Hall meeting. It was reportedly part of the "Community Day with Superintendent Starr" program. Superintendent Joshua Starr, Phd., was speaking to parents and taking questions from 7:30-9 p.m. at Clarksburg High School.
A parent who contacted TheBlaze was in the audience at the town hall event, and reportedly read a few of the questions aloud. As the objectionable questions were heard, parents in the room reportedly gasped when learning about questions relating to "parents political identification" and Obamacare.
According to one of our sources, who was at the town hall meeting on Monday, the superintendent's only response was, “We had already heard about it… something we don’t know about.” Superintendent Starr then reportedly moved on to another question. TheBlaze has made repeated requests for a copy of the video from the meeting.
Tuesday morning, TheBlaze again reached out to the Montgomery County district offices as well as Poolesville High School's Principal Deena Levine. We asked questions about the origin of survey, when and why was it removed from the online system. Further, we are currently trying to determine if any data was collected from the survey and, if so, how is it being used.
Principal Levine and Superintendent Starr did not respond directly to our inquires. However, Tofig sent the first of several responses to our questions. Some of the answers we were given contradicted what one parent told us. Shortly after noon on Tuesday, Tofig sent the first "official" response stating:
Students at Poolesville High School's Advanced Placement (AP) National, State, and Local Government class are studying polls, surveys and trends. Several students in the class volunteered to create a survey after school that would be given to the school's sophomores and would cover topics that were currently in the news. The idea was that they would then analyze the data and see what trends develop along demographic lines. The poll was given to the 10th graders at Poolesville High only. Some took it in class and, for others, the classroom teachers posted it on EdLine--our system used to communicate with parents and students about homework, assignments and school events-- so students could take the survey outside of class.
This first paragraph of the district's response contradicts what we were told by a concerned parent. According to our source, students were instructed to take out their cellphones, log in to Edline and take the survey. There was no "opt-out" offered, and in one instance, a student who did not wish to take the survey was coerced by a "authoritarian" teacher.
These are claims that the Montgomery County School District is denying.
The official response continues:
Normally, surveys that are going to be given to students at Poolesville are provided to school administration to review, but that did not happen in this case. Once the survey was brought to the attention of the administration, it was removed from EdLine.
The results of the survey were only going to be analyzed by the AP Government classes, and not provided to anyone else. All responses, regardless of where they were submitted, were done anonymously, and neither the students nor the teachers would have had access to the demographic data on a student-by-student basis.
TheBlaze was also curious about the anonymity of the students and their answers to these probing questions, so we contacted Edline, the company behind the web portal.
We got in touch with a woman at the company named "Tina," who identified herself as a "system operator." When we asked about anonymity, Tina responded, "I can't imagine how they (students) could retain anonymity if they logged in using their user name and password."
Mr. Tofig's response continues:
The principal, Deena Levine, spoke to the teachers today. Ultimately, their intent was to help the students create an authentic poll, based on criteria detailed in the AP curriculum, in a way that would engage the students. But she made it clear that the surveys should not have been placed on EdLine, that some of the questions were inappropriate, and that it should have been brought to school leadership to review before it was distributed. The survey has been removed and the results will not be calculated.
We don't discuss personnel issues, so I cannot discuss if there will be any consequences. But I can say that the principal believes the teachers' intentions were good.
On Tuesday afternoon, TheBlaze responded to Mr. Tofig's official statements several times. We repeatedly asked for access to the school's principal, the teachers allegedly involved in the survey and a copy of the video from the school superintendent's town hall meeting. Late Tuesday, we were informed that the video from the town hall would be available sometime next week. TheBlaze's other requests were denied.
As we awaited the chance to speak with the parties allegedly responsible for creating the questionable survey, more information came to TheBlaze supporting allegations that the survey was teacher-created and not a "volunteer" project as Tofig has claimed.
TheBlaze has been told by a parent that this was not a "volunteer" project, but an assignment. The parent's allegation states that a Poolesville teacher wrote the lion's share of questions, but students were told they could "add a question or two." It wasn't immediately clear which questions were written by students or by teachers.
So we pressed again, especially concerning the anonymity of the students as it related to the information asked in the survey. A second, "official" response stated:
I've been as forthcoming as I can be about this matter. I have been assured that the survey was anonymous. Even if someone logged into edline, that would only be the way they would access the survey. It would not identify them as having taken the survey.
As of late Tuesday, TheBlaze was still waiting for a response to our repeated requests to speak with any teachers involved in allegedly creating, uploading and asking students to participate in the survey. If we get the opportunity to speak with any teachers, we will update this post. Here is the entire survey as seen on the Edline system before the district deleted it from the web.
2013-14 Sophomore Survey
How many siblings do you have?
- 4 or more
Which House (This refers to the specific curriculum of the school)
Were you born in the United States?
- Poolesville (surrounding areas)
- Montgomery Village
- African American
- Middle Eastern
- Caucasian (White non Hispanic)
- South Asian (India, etc.)
- Native American
- Pacific Islander
- John Poole
- Rocky Hill
- Roberto Clemente
- Montgomery Village
- Forrest Oak
- Protestant (Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian etc.)
- Agnostic (Belief in something but unsure what)
- Christian Non-Denominational
- Both parents
- Single Mother
- Single Father
- Legal Guardian/Relative
- Split between parents
- Parent and Step Parent
- Less than 50,000
- More than 250,000
- I have no idea
- Not sure
- Other (transgender, asexual, pansexual, etc)
- I have no idea
- Non High School Graduate
- High School Graduate
- Some College
- College Graduate
- Post College Degree (MD, PhD, Masters)
- I do not know
- Legal for all uses/purposes
- Legal for medicinal reasons only (prescribed by doctor/physician)
- Not legal
- Beneficial to everyone
- It benefits the poor only but that is okay
- It benefits the poor only and it hurts the economy
- It is the worst thing to happen to America in a long time
- It is neither good nor bad
- no opinion
- Equally to blame
- President Obama
- Getting a lot worse
- Getting worse
- Will remain the same for the foreseeable future
- Getting better
- Getting a lot better
- Salad Bar
- Burrito/nacho bar
- Better fries
- Lower prices
- Fresh Fruit/Vegetables
- Food cooked at school (never frozen)
- More vegetarian/vegan/gluten free choices
- More choices
- A lot less
- Somewhat less
- No difference
- Somewhat more
- A lot more
- Environmental Protection
- Fixing the economy
- National defense
- Helping the poor/disadvantaged
This post has been updated for clarity.
We will be discussing this story and all the day's news on our live BlazeCast with Editor-in-Chief Scott Baker (@bakerlink) beginning at 2:00 pm ET:
Featured image via shutterstock.com