Florida Ed Department pushing schools to ditch CDC survey

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Dive Brief:

  • Florida schools are feeling pressure from the Florida Department of Education to stop participating in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System — a national survey for teens and adults created in 1990 to monitor “health behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death.” 
  • On Feb. 14, Orange County Public Schools said it will stop participating in the CDC survey after the state’s Education Department notified the district of its objections, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Orange County schools did collect the 2023 survey data from its students in January but no longer plans to hand over the data to the CDC, the district told the newspaper.
  • Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz also wrote a Feb. 9 letter to Duval County Public Schools denouncing the district’s continued participation in the “inflammatory and sexualized” CDC survey. Diaz said the state’s Education Department in March 2022 sent a joint letter with the Florida Department of Health to the CDC stating neither of the state agencies would continue participating in the optional national survey.

Dive Insight:

The Sunshine State’s escalating moves to stop schools from collecting this CDC data comes just as the federal agency’s latest survey revealed stark signs that the youth mental health crisis is worsening

Survey questions sent to high school students cover behaviors that can lead to unintentional injuries and violence. The agency also asks about sexual behaviors related to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, as well as alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, unhealthy dietary behaviors, and inadequate physical activity.

In 2019, Duval and Orange County schools were among six Florida school districts represented in the CDC survey. All but four states — Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming — participated in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System that year.

The Florida Department of Education plans to administer its own survey this spring, making the CDC survey “duplicative and unnecessary,” according to Diaz’s letter to Duval County schools. Following Diaz’s letter, Duval County schools also decided to stop participating in the CDC survey, according to First Coast News.

“The CDC Survey asks leading questions phrased in such a way that may actually introduce risky behaviors to students, prompting them to engage in potentially detrimental activities,” Diaz wrote. 

The CDC denies such concerns on the survey’s FAQ page, stating “There is no evidence that simply asking students about health behaviors will encourage them to try that behavior.”

Diaz added: “I strongly urge you to reconsider having your students participate in the CDC Survey. Instead of asking students highly controversial and extremely personal questions from the CDC Survey, you should re-focus your efforts on teaching and learning as the end of the school year quickly approaches.”

Duval’s Superintendent Diana Greene told First Coast News that the district had used the CDC survey since 2009 “to provide the district and health partners with extensive data about the experiences of our students and the services they need.”

“We know we are serving multiple students as young as middle school who are already moms and dads,” Greene said. “Even though this survey is going away, we will do our best to remain attentive to the experiences and behaviors of our students and continue to work with other community partners to address their needs.”

The conversation in Florida comes just as CDC released its most recent youth behavior survey results on Feb. 13, based on data collected in fall 2021. In that report, CDC found nearly 1 in 3 girls had seriously considered attempting suicide — a 60% jump from a decade prior. Additionally, 1 in 5 said they had experienced sexual violence in the previous year, while more than 1 in 10 teen girls said they had experienced rape. Among LGBTQ students, more than 1 in 5 reported attempting suicide in the past year.

“Young people are experiencing a level of distress that calls on us to act with urgency and compassion,” said Kathleen Ethier, the director of the agency’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, in a news release Monday. “With the right programs and services in place, schools have the unique ability to help our youth flourish.”

At the same time, schools are struggling to keep up with students’ mental health needs. Both teachers and superintendents say schools lack resources to properly address the problem, according to two surveys released Thursday by EAB, an education research and consulting firm.

This article originally appeared in www.k12dive.com

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