After a four-year hiatus and eight years of debate, the SHARP survey is back in the Morgan School District. District officials unanimously passed approval and are encouraging parents to review the survey and initiate dialogue with their children both before and after they take the survey.
The survey, which district officials plan to administer before April 30, measures students’ use of alcohol, tobacco and drug as well as health behaviors, dietary behaviors, antisocial behaviors and risk behaviors. Students’ perceptions regarding community, school, peers and family have also been historic survey topics as well.
Superintendent Doug Jacobs alerted parents to the survey in a letter, which directs them to a copy of the survey at http://www.bach-harrison.com/surveyforms.aspx?index=2.
The Morgan School District will administer the survey on an “opt-in” basis, where students must provide a parent-signed permission slip in order to take the survey. If a student feels uncomfortable participating in the survey, even if they have parent permission, he or she will not be forced to take part.
Board Member Gaylene Adams said the opt-in program provides parents with the option to choose what is best for their child. Some parents noted that when the school board voted not to administer the survey years ago, parents’ option to opt in to such surveys was taken away.
Jacobs said students’ participation is completely voluntary, confidential and anonymous. Children will not be penalized or lose any benefits if they do not take the survey. Students can also discontinue taking the survey or skip any or all questions without penalty, he said. School Board Member Adam Toone also expressed concern that students not be bullied for not taking the survey.
The district first administered the SHARP survey in 2003. In 2007, 255 Morgan students took the survey. In response to parental objections to the survey, the school board voted to not participate in the SHARP Survey in 2009. In 2011, the district eliminated sixth graders from the taking the survey. That year, only 168 Morgan students in grades 8, 10 and 12 took the survey. In 2012, the school board unanimously voted not to administer the survey due to low participation in past years along with parent opposition.
Morgan is one of only three school districts across Utah that doesn’t administer the SHARP survey, said Diana Windely, a member of the Morgan High School Community Council. “We have seen our schools with and without SHARP,” Windley said.
Last month, the MHS Community Council asked the school board to bring the SHARP survey back. Board Chairman Ron Blunck said the request was an unprecedented one, and that during his tenure, he has never seen such a community council request.
“Years ago the SHARP survey was taken out of our school district and since that time, we have missed out on valuable information that would have been of benefit to our students, teachers, parents and the community at large. All of us as parents want to protect our children and one of the best ways to protect them and fortify them is to educate them,” read the letter sent by 10 MHS Community Council members. “Academic education is so important, but vital also is teaching them about drugs, alcohol, pornography, abuse, depression, mental illness, suicide awareness, bullying, texting and driving, buckling up, smoking and e-cigarettes, and many more things. All of these topics listed above effect student’s academic education and happiness. By understanding what students are struggling with, we can address the issues and help them understand and achieve their full potential, and maybe even save a life.”
The MHS council said they have reviewed all the questions on the survey and questioned the survey’s administrator about their concerns.
Windley said the Morgan Middle School Community Council also voted unanimously to bring the survey back to Morgan. “We feel sixth graders are not too young to be educated on these issues,” according to the MHS letter.
Over the years, some parents have expressed concern that survey questions would expose students to concepts they have never heard about before, therefore increasing curiosity and initiating substance abuse.
“There is no evidence to support the concern that exposure to the survey increases usage,” Jacobs said in his letter to parents. “In fact, in the years that the survey has been administered, usage of alcohol, tobacco and drugs has declined.”
Survey proponents say analyzing survey results is a good way to determine risk factors for future substance abuse and antisocial behaviors. The test is administered every other year. Using the data collected from the survey will help Morgan participate in prevention measures—such as Prevention Dimension and All Stars offered through Weber Human Services—that are customized to Morgan’s specific concerns as unveiled in the survey.
“This is Morgan data, not Weber County data,” Windley said. “This is what is going on with the teenagers in our community. There are teens here in Morgan that the only voice they hear against substance abuse are from the SHARP survey. By implementing these programs, we will put our students on the path to success.”
“Our school district has missed out on programs and grants that could have helped our students,” according to the MHS letter. “We, as tax payers, should have access to these programs and funding being offered.”
Gwen Romero, a teacher for over 20 years in the school district, said Prevention Dimension helped her as an educator recognize signs of mental health issues and substance abuse with her students. Using the faculty and staff education program, she was able to key in on certain student behaviors and reach out to those students in need.
“As a teacher, I hear from kids, parents and my own children,” Romero said. “The information from the SHARP survey fills in some of the wholes, and gives us a better sense of what is happening in our schools.”
In 2005, SHARP survey results identified inhalant use in Morgan, Romero said. By 2007, inhalant use had declined due to targeted prevention programs, she said.
“The more resources we can bring in to address these issue, the more we can focus on academics,” Romero said.
Other parents are concerned about protecting private information asked for in the survey.
“Privacy is always a concern. Students are revealing information about their families, about themselves, about religion,” said parent Jennie Earl. “It is always a valid concern to ask, ‘Where is my information going?’ I want to make sure that data is kept secure. I have expressed this concern before. We want to make sure parents are actively involved and educated” about this survey. “Even if surveys are evidence-based, they should be evaluated to see if they fit our community, if they align with our community interests.”
Board members Ted Taylor and Kelly Preece both said they have received numerous messages from constituents about reinstating the SHARP survey.
“We can’t stick our heads in the sand and believe (these issues) will go away,” Preece said. “We have to be open-minded.”