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Staff Editorial: Policy limits students’ freedom of speech

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Over the past school year, board policy 7.15, which concerns student and family privacy rights, has limited the Omega’s ability to conduct proper research through online polls. The policy contains sections regarding parent’s rights to remove their child from surveying and the guidelines for surveys administered by third parties (anyone other than a district official, teacher or student). Additionally, the policy covers what specific survey topics are subject to parental approval. These include, eight broad categories such as “political affiliations and beliefs” and “behaviors or attitudes about sex”.

What the text of the policy does not cover is how and why surveys distributed by the Omega and Cauldron Yearbook are subject to these guidelines. Although these publications both are school sponsored, the surveys are student-to-student communications before anything else.

By subjecting these surveys to administrative and parental approval, the school administration is hindering student speech for the sole reason it is in the form of a survey sent out by a school-sponsored organization. If students that are on these publications have to seek approval to ask their peers questions through a survey format, does this still apply of the student where to ask the questions in person? Through a paper survey? There seems to be some sort of fine line between these forms, but the Omega cannot comprehend why the format of the communication is relevant.

The recent changes to board policy 7.15 that sparked these struggles resulted from the federal statute called the Protection of Pupil Rights Act. This act requires schools to create policies, like 7.15, that addresses the rights of parents to withdraw their child from a required survey from a third party, the rights of parents to review the instructional material of their students, requirements to protect student privacy in surveys, etc.
What is vague about PPRA is what surveys are subject to its guidelines. Principal Janice Schwarze used the Illinois Youth survey, a required in-school survey that collects private information and focuses on drugs, alcohol and mental health, as an example of a survey that needs to go through the approval process outlined on board policy 7.15.

This survey was sent to parents ahead of administration so parents could decide to opt their child out of receiving the survey. It is unclear why, if surveys from the Omega are not required, they are still subject to the same principal approval as the required third party surveys.

Because polls issued by the Omega are neither required nor set up to collect personal information, PPRA does not apply to the Omega’s student to student communications.

It is unclear how an optional poll administered by students to students can subject to the guidelines of Board Policy 7.15. This year, when the Omega wishes to administer a poll regarding one of the eight subject areas outlined in Board Policy 7.15, they have had to submit the poll for approval by principal Janice Schwarze.

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The student news site of Downers Grove North High School
Staff Editorial: Policy limits students’ freedom of speech