Low participation in past years, along with parent opposition to future administrations of the survey, spelled doom for the Student Health and Risk Prevention survey in the Morgan County School District for 2013.
After hearing public comment, the Morgan County School Board unanimously voted not to administer the SHARP survey to students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades in 2013.
“We are a rural community that is very parent-driven,” board member Bruce Galbraith said. “I don’t want to encourage usage or experimentation of something because students think it might be more common.”
“It is my belief this survey is a broken survey,” said Jenny Earl. “We are trying to get something positive out of a broken piece of information.”
Glenna Smith said the “detailed” question of the survey may expose students to aspects of substance abuse they may not have been aware of before taking the survey, such as the fact that drugs can be inhaled through the nose.
“I don’t want my kids knowing that,” she said. “The school doesn’t have any place teaching values to children.”
“By definition these (survey) questions are leading questions. This invalidates the results you get from this test,” said Brett Earl, a Morgan resident and emergency room physician. “The reason for the survey is it is easy and simple to give to a submissive group of people you can get information from, and it is tied to federal dollars. We need to find a better way to do it.”
“It is invalid in this community,” Bret Smith said.
The survey measures students’ use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs as well as health behaviors, dietary behaviors, antisocial behaviors and risk behaviors. Students’ perception regarding community, school, peers and family is also a survey topic.
Proponents of the survey have argued in the past that the anonymous survey gives measurable data that directs school and community leaders in prevention and remediation efforts.
Steven Harrison, founder of Bach Harrison Survey Research and Evaluation Services that put the survey together, said the survey is administered to 500,000 students across the nation each year, amounting to 10 million surveys administered in the last 10 years. “It is one of the best researched surveys I have dealt with,” Harrison said. “I would certainly recommend it. It gives you a wealth of information about what is happening in your community.”
Parents at the latest school board meeting agreed that the Morgan community may have substance abuse and other teen behavioral problems, but those problems are best addressed in the home and by community efforts such as Morgan Empowered.
“These are community problems and not school problems,” Lanelle Butterfield said. “In our community, we are doing great things right now. We have pulled off incredible community events at minimal to no cost to the school, which is huge under the current situation of school money.”
“We have given this survey before,” boardmember Ken Durrant said. “We realize the problems we have in our community. It didn’t take a survey for us to identify the problems.”
The information brought to the table by the county attorney, sheriff’s department, school leaders, parents, religious leaders, and other government leaders who are part of Morgan Empowered is much more valid information, Durrant said.
During the last administration of the survey, the district had very few students participate. Only 168 Morgan students in grades 8, 10 and 12 took the survey in 2011, and 255 students took the survey in 2007.
“That is the voice of the people,” Butterfield said. “They have read the survey. They know what is in it. They have chose not to do it. You have a responsibility to listen to what they are saying.”
“Because the end number was so small, I felt it was invalid data that could not be valuable,” Superintendent Ken Adams said. “The administration thinks it is valuable, but if we don’t get a large enough sample, it would not do a lot of good.”
In the end, the board voted unanimously to not administer the survey in 2013. School board member Jody Hipwell, who earlier told the audience she sees the value of the survey and would allow her own children to take it, eventually made the motion to scrap the survey.