A bill that would permit school districts to administer student health surveys after prior written notification to parents and legal guardians, and effectively changing active parental consent to passive consent, was introduced into the Assembly on May 12, 2021.
On May 17th, the bill was posted for a hearing by the Assembly Health Committee. NJPSA appeared at the committee and testified in opposition to the legislation. The survey law has been to affirmatively obtain parental consent in a straightforward way, particularly in sensitive topic areas such as those covered by this bill. NJPSA spoke to the importance of preserving this transparency and straightforward approach, especially at this time. While recognizing that student surveys are an important tool to gather information and data that can help identify student needs and at-risk youth, we expressed concern that A-5997 could potentially bypass parents who have language or technology barriers, are overwhelmed with paperwork for multiple students in the district, or simply miss an email, letter, or form sent home. The subject matter of the surveys referenced in this bill are high-stakes topics for students. This has the potential to put school leaders in a very difficult position, and risks violating the confidence and trust of your school community.
The sponsor cited that the Department of Education has been unable to obtain a sufficient amount of data on student health surveys to produce a sample that is representative of the student population due, in part, from the method in which students are permitted to participate in such surveys. The sponsor further indicated that studies have shown that a lack of written consent rarely means that a parent or legal guardian has objections to their child’s participation in a survey and that students from at-risk environments are less likely to return permission forms leading to diminished validity of the sample.
The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 9-4, and was quickly moved to a floor vote. On Thursday, May 20th, the bill was passed by the full General Assembly by a vote of 48-28-0. It has now been introduced in the Senate and awaits a hearing in the upper house.