Local News

Wake Opts Out Of National Survey Because Of Pointed Questions

Posted February 17, 2005 3:28 a.m. EST

— A survey of teens is supposed to find out how many teens use drugs, have sex or think about suicide state-wide and nationwide. But, the survey does not stop with yes or no answers. Follow-up questions, for instance, ask what kind of birth control students are using. It's those descriptive questions that are worrying Wake County Schools.

Every two years, the federal government attempts to get into the minds of teenagers with an anonymous survey. The approach is subtle. The questions are not. Middle school students are asked questions such as "Have you ever used any form of cocaine?" and "Have you ever made a plan about how you would kill yourself?"

High school students are also asked about sexual activity.

"The questions that concern me are the probing questions about sexual intercourse," said Carol Parker, a Wake County school board member.

Parker isn't the only one who's uncomfortable. The school system doesn't like the survey and opted not to participate.

"In some areas with regard to suicide and drug abuse we believe it may introduce an idea to students that they hadn't thought of before," said school spokesman Michael Evans.

Plus, the sex questions aren't in line with the school system's abstinence until marriage policy.

"On the other hand, the answer is not to not get the information if we want to take seriously what's going on in kids' world," said Susan Parry, Wake County school board chairperson.

Parry sees value in the survey. So do health care professionals.

"I think we stick our head in the sand if we believe our children aren't involved in some of these activities," said Gibbie Harris, Wake County health director.

Harris said it is important to understand teenage trends to create prevention programs. Plus, other questions deal with health and fitness such as "during the past 7 days how many times did you eat French fries?"

"We know we have problems and we need to deal with them and good information helps us deal with those in a most appropriate way," Harris said.

The Wake County Health Department and the school system are trying to come up with a compromise. They're planning to write up a different survey, but that raises other questions.

"...I think we risk losing specifics when we don't ask point blank questions," Harris said.

As for the national survey, North Carolina only has 62 middle schools on board along with 67 high schools. That may not be enough to participate.