Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Brunswick schools tighten policy language after NHCS’ Title IX survey draws national controversy

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — After national media shined an unfavorable spotlight on New Hanover County Schools’ Title IX questionnaire, its neighbor Brunswick County Schools has tightened the language of its student survey policy.

Tuesday night, the all-Republican board re-adopted the procedures with a few revisions and assurance from the superintendent the district has never sent out a Title IX survey. There were no sweeping changes made to the original rules, but wording was clarified. The district’s spokesperson said surveys given out in its schools are intended to help teachers understand their classes’ educational needs, “not for topics that should be discussed between parents/guardians at home.”

“Brunswick County does not use many of the surveys, if any of the surveys, that are being used in some of our other neighboring districts,” Superintendent Jerry Oates said.

Board member David Robinson said “numerous parents” reached out to him after seeing the nationwide attention on the neighboring school district. NHCS is facing backlash for contracting with a data strategist to administer a Title IX survey earlier this school year. The issue was highlighted most recently on conservative Candace Owens’ show with The Daily Wire.

The NHCS board spent over a year debating and preparing the survey to gauge students’ experiences with sexual violence in the wake of several teacher arrests. Of the 8,000 students who filled out the questionnaire, 22% of middle-school and 27% of high-school students said they had endured sexual harassment before. It also asked whether they reported the behavior. Sexual harassment was defined in the form as unwelcome sexual advances and included references to pornography.

NHCS parent Chelsea Cooley, also Miss USA in 2005, was a guest on Owens’ show this month to talk about her struggle to obtain a copy of the Title IX survey before it was administered to her sixth-grade daughter. In an email shared on the program, Title IX director Jarelle Lewis told Cooley he would not provide a direct copy over email and advised her to visit the school or central office.

Cooley told Owens her daughter’s school, Roland-Grise Middle, did not have the survey on hand when she visited, and she had to find it by watching an old public meeting on YouTube.

In a statement, NHCS chair Stephanie Kraybill said parents were invited through calls and emails to a Zoom meeting to learn about the survey. She also said the form was available at schools for parents to examine with administrators and counselors in real-time.

Brunswick County’s revised policy, No. 4720, lists “protected topics” like politics, mental health, sexual behavior and attitudes, which parents can opt their children out of answering. The guidance requires schools to notify families at the beginning of the school year of when questionnaires concerning the shielded matters will be distributed.

School board member Robin Moffitt, up for reelection this year, led the charge to review the surveying practices with Oates. During the board of education meeting, she said staff should ask students get-to-know-you questions and have a pulse on bullying, domestic abuse and suicide awareness — “but as far as things that should be discussed at home, they should stay at home.”

Political debate is mounting in the U.S. over whether schools are overstepping as they take measures to accept, embrace or create safe spaces for students to reveal their gender identity or sexuality.

During the show, Cooley vocalized unease with NHCS’ survey asking youth if they were transgender, non-binary or two-spirit. The results revealed 6% of students identify as a gender other than female or male.

“I was really concerned because it’s giving her information to be curious about,” Cooley said on Owens’ show. “Something that at her age — at 11 years old — should not be on the spectrum of things that she’s concerned about.”

Owens suggested pedophiles are “hiding under the LGBT flag” and will use that connection to groom minors.

“There are going to be kids that start to get abused. They are going to establish that relationship with them,” Owens said. “They’re going to say, ‘Don’t listen to your mom and dad, I’m here for you. You are transitioning. I went through this. I’m your friend. I can help you outside of this.’ And I’m so terrified that so many children are going to be harmed in the process.”

During the Brunswick County school board meeting, Moffitt also addressed concerns the district would collect data and send it to outside sources. The modified policy includes a new paragraph stating “parents and eligible students have the right, upon request, to inspect any survey created by a third party before the survey is administered.”

“Very few, if any, surveys are being done that disseminate student information, that delves into their personal lives and the information being stored or shared or sent to some third party,” Oates said. “We keep those items as far away from students as we possibly can.”


Email the reporter at alexandria@localdailymedia.com

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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