JEROME — Brandy Ramos’ 9-year-old daughter has spent the school year learning about adding decimals and the difference between cold-blooded and warm-blooded animals.
So earlier this month, Ramos was shocked when she picked up her daughter from school and the third-grader asked her to explain a sex act.
The same day, her 11-year-old son, who’s in sixth-grade, asked her about another sex act.
The children’s questions came after they were given a survey at school.
A group of parents — including Ramos — is upset about the 10-question Adverse Childhood Experience survey given Feb. 8. Some are considering legal action.
But administrators say the survey was useful and found about 70 percent of Heritage Academy students scored a three or higher — meaning they’ve experienced at least three stressful life situations, Heritage Academy superintendent Christine Ivie said.
Those situations could include sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence or going without meals.
But for Ramos and other parents, the survey’s question on sex abuse went too far. Ramos pulled her children out of Heritage Academy and is homeschooling them.
If school employees want to ask her children if they’ve been touched inappropriately in their bathing suit area, that’s fine, she said, and they don’t need permission.
“The consent part is kind of a double-edged sword,” Ramos said. Parents who are abusing their children shouldn’t be tipped off or given the ability to coach kids into denying abuse.
But to ask about oral or anal sex — which one question did — crosses the line, Ramos said. “I think it’s kind of common sense those aren’t words we use with children.”
It’s the first time the survey — which the superintendent says was anonymous and optional for students to take — has been used at the Jerome public charter school.
The survey is used in a lot of schools and youth organizations, Ivie said.
It helps identify stressful life experiences students may be dealing with that could affect their academic performance and how they learn.
“For a school-wide purpose, we used it to get an idea of just the level of overall adverse life events our students are dealing with,” Ivie said.
A kid dealing with a traumatic event will be less likely to absorb classroom lessons, she said.
Ivie received a copy of the survey at a training she attended with professionals that included school administrators and counselors.
“It seems like it’s pretty widely used,” she said.
But in an email to parents Feb. 9, Ivie wrote the school won’t use the survey again.
Idaho Department of Education spokesman Jeff Church wrote in an email to the Times-News he doesn’t have detailed knowledge of the survey or how often it’s used in schools.
Heritage Academy’s school board met Feb. 32 “to wrap everything up” regarding the survey and to talk about follow-up steps, Ivie said.
In the future, she said, she and the board will get parent input on how to create a supportive school environment and how to deal with controversial material.
A group of parents attended a school board meeting last week, but the survey wasn’t an item on the agenda, Ramos said. Parents were allowed to speak, but board members didn’t respond.
She’d like to see the school board fulfill its role in answering to stakeholders. “At this point,” Ramos said “they’ve been completely silent.”
In a Feb. 12 email to parents, acting school administrator Robert Hunter wrote the school board is investigating and “are not at liberty to discuss personnel matters with the public.”
He also wrote that a parent group was originally planning to protest the survey at the school but decided not to. Hunter asked students to enter through the playground doors the following day as a safety precaution. He also requested a police presence temporarily either on campus or nearby and encouraged parents to report any threats to the Jerome Police Department.
The original Adverse Childhood Experiences Study — organized by Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — was given in the mid-1990s to more than 17,000 southern California adults.
It’s “one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being,” the CDC’s website says.
The family health history questionnaire, for example, has more than 60 multi-part questions.
On the version of the survey given to Heritage Academy students, there’s only one question about whether students have experienced sexual abuse, Ivie said.
For first and second-graders, teachers asked students all the questions out loud, she said. Teachers used language such as “Has anyone touched you in the swimsuit area and made you feel uncomfortable?”
And the survey was modified for first through fourth-graders with age-appropriate language, Ivie said.
Other questions included whether a child has a family member who’s been in prison, whether their parents are divorced and if they’ve ever been hit or pushed.
“It’s really a variety of things,” Ivie said. “Those items were based on the 10 most common things reported by children that were going on in their lives that were stressful and causing problems.”
Ivie wrote in an email to parents that the school’s goal is to ensure there is proper training and support for teachers to provide a safe environment for student.
She’s received both positive and negative feedback about the survey.
People who are upset may not have all of the information, she said, and may have seen misinformation circulating on Facebook.
If parents have questions, Ivie said, they should make an appointment with her.
The goal isn’t to pry into peoples’ personal lives, Ivie said. “We just want to make sure we create a safe, supportive environment where (children) can be here and learn here and grow.”
Ivie said she heard from 16 people — students and parents — after the survey who’ve come forward to ask for help with something the survey addressed.
In an email to parents, Ivie wrote she emphasized with students the survey was anonymous, they weren’t required to complete it and that it “asked some very personal questions.”
Davis Conklin, who has nephews and nieces attending Heritage Academy, has also been a nanny for a couple of kids at the school.
She said she’s speaking on behalf of a group of about 20 parents, some of whom are too worried about the repercussions if they talk about the survey publicly.
But some of those parents are looking into potential legal action, she said.
The day after the survey was given, students who were absent the previous day were pulled from recess and class to take the survey, Conklin said, meaning it was no longer anonymous.
She said some parents are also worried about potential Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act violations — particularly, involving a survey question about whether students live with someone who has a mental illness.
Plus, about 40 percent of students at Heritage Academy have special needs, Conklin said, and took the survey.
Ramos said she was “extremely concerned” after her children told her about the survey. She went to the school office to gather information, but Ivie wasn’t there.
She contacted two school board members and heard back from one of them, who said the school board doesn’t deal with individual complaints and she needed to talk with Ivie.
Ramos said she has received calls from Ivie. But “I have no interest in talking with her,” she said. “The damage is done.”
She posted a copy of the survey on her Facebook page. She said she heard from a school board member asking her to take the post down, but she didn’t.
Ivie said she plans to meet with a school board member and a handful of parents to discuss the overall school results. They’ll also talk about what the procedure should be for deciding which surveys to use in the future.
Kathy Kent said she wonders what Ivie’s concern was that prompted the survey and why it wasn’t age-appropriate. She also wonders if the school board approved the survey before it was distributed.
“It’s really strange and out of the ordinary for a school,” she said.
Kent said her 8-year-old grandson — who goes to Heritage Academy — has Asperger’s syndrome. She said he’s “pure at heart. To ask him those questions, it’s just not right.”
She also wonders if other area schools are using the same quiz with the same wording.
In the Twin Falls School District, there’s a detailed policy about research studies.
It states a questionnaire or survey about a student or parent’s “personal beliefs, practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion” can’t be distributed without school district approval and written parental permission. Parents can also opt students out from taking a survey.
School district spokeswoman Eva Craner said the district has no plans to give the ACE survey to students.