Student and family privacy unprotected

Today where electronic and legal privacy protections abound, it’s surprising how unprotected children are from invasions of privacy by assignments and activities in public school classrooms.

In my Oct. 3 Camera Editorial Advisory Board comment, I brought to the public’s attention “Hot Seat Freshman Questions” used in Freshman Seminar in the Boulder Valley School District. Teachers asked 9th graders: “Do you have a significant other? Who is it?” and “Who do you have a crush on?” as part of the 20 questions used in the August get-acquainted activity.

Ginger Ramsey, principal of Broomfield High, one school where the questions were used, quickly and kindly clarified for me: Teachers and upper-class student helpers “break the ice” in class by answering the questions first. Students can “pass” on any question and voluntarily take the “hot seat” in front of the class.”

After requesting a response from the school district, I received a telephone call on Oct. 9 from Deirdre Pilch, assistant superintendent for school leadership. She validated my concerns about the questions mentioned here and raised concern about another question I had included in my original submission: “What is your biggest regret?” Pilch said she and Ramsey agreed “schools should not be asking 9th graders about their dating practices and who they have a crush on.”

If students were to answer the questions honestly, they would be opening themselves up to potential bullying and would disclose their sexual orientation and interest or lack of in dating relationships. As I have high regard for Ramsey, I was not surprised to hear Pilch say that had Ramsey known the questions beforehand, Ramsey would have talked with teachers about using them.

Pilch added she sent out an e-mail to principals asking Freshman Seminar coordinators to discontinue the “Hot Seat” activity. I have requested a copy of that e-mail. Pilch said she doesn’t have her own anymore but will do her best to track down one for me. I’ll update this post as soon as it arrives.

[Update 10/21/09 10:50 p.m. E-mail from Pilch to Don Stensrud, Ginger Ramsey, Kevin Braney, Jerry Anderson, Rich Salaz, Kurt Levasseur, and Rhonda Haniford: “Please take a look at this Freshman Seminar activity. We have had a little controversy arise over it. So, have a conversation with your Freshman Seminar folks about the appropriateness of this in terms of kids who might be uncomfortable with the questions about date, crush, significant other, regret.

“Thanks for looking at this. It is not representative of our goals for Freshman Seminar, so please ask your staff to discontinue use.”]

A naïve conclusion to this situation is to say all is well now. The shocking questions so obviously out of bounds were removed from the classroom. Unfortunately, a closer look shows the exact opposite. Children and their families are still at risk.

The first sign is the assistant superintendent didn’t retain a copy of her request the activity be discontinued. She had to track it down. Another is the district doesn’t have the smart tools of district policy and training to assure the new path will be maintained. Dr. Chris King, superintendent, and the school board are in a position to remedy this situation. We’ll see what, if anything, they will do.

Until King and the school board act favorably, students who encounter these questions or any others they feel uncomfortable answering should either decline or respond with fiction, the more outlandish or creative the better. In fact, I see no other way to protect student and family privacy.

Here is the complete list of 20 “Hot Seat Freshman Questions” used in the Boulder Valley School District Freshman Seminar:

1. What is your full name (including middle name)?
2. What activities do you participate in at BHS?
3. What are things you do outside of school?
4. What do you like most about BHS?
5. Do you have any brothers or sisters at BHS?
6. Do you have a significant other? Who is it?
7. Who do you have a crush on?
8. If you could date a celebrity, who would it be?
9. Where is somewhere you’d like to travel that you’ve never been?
10. What is your favorite subject at BHS?
11. Who is your hero? Why?
12. What is your definition of happiness?
13. Describe your worst haircut?
14. What is your biggest regret?
15. Do you have a job? Where? If not, where do you think you’d like to work?
16. What are your GPA goals for this year?
17. Where were you born?
18. What state would you love to live in?
19. What do you want to do for a career?
20. Have you ever been outside the country?

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8 Responses to Student and family privacy unprotected

  1. You really don't know what you are talking about. You have generalized ONE school's poor choice to create and utilize a scripted list of some uncomfortable questions as "Boulder Valley School District Freshman Seminar" curriculum. How hard would it have been to do a little research as to how other schools utilize the "Hot Seat" activity BEFORE you picked up your pitchfork, lit your torch, and started typing?

    As far as your assertion that "the district doesn’t have the smart tools of district policy and training to assure the new path will be maintained"–if you had done your homework you would realize that BVSD doesn't need a new path, but rather it was BHS in this situation that needed to be brought back to the original goals of this activity. "Hot Seat" has been clearly defined within the district's focus of creating positive relationships and a smooth tranisition into high school for all 9th grade students since the inception of Freshman Seminar in BVSD almost 10 years ago.

  2. Now that schools must discontinue using this activity because of your amazing muckraking skills, I can't help but think about the historical tradgedy of all the great books that were never read because they were BURNED for their content according to whatever assumptions were made at the time…

    Nice work, Shirley. "Children and their families are still at risk"–because of people like you who don't know what they are talking about.

  3. rclloyd says:

    Quothe Shakespeare…"Much ado about nothing" Keep trying Shirley…

  4. believeinKarma,

    The BVSD did the generalizing and made it clear the “Hot Seat” questions were not unique to Broomfield High. Furthermore in defense of Principal Ginger Ramsey, the district has no requirement principals review class activities and assignments. And, in defense of all teachers, these questions are not out of bounds according to district policy.

    As for my amazing “muckraking” skills, I’ll take that as a compliment as should any parent who steps forward on behalf of their child, their children or all children with what’s on their minds.

  5. rclloyd,

    If my raising the issue of student and family privacy unprotected in assigned schoolwork and activities is really “Much ado about nothing,” why not answer the first question on the “Hot Seat Freshman Questions” activity? What is your full name (including middle name)?

  6. Dear Shirley,

    You speak out of both sides of your mouth. On one hand, you are leery of accepting or trusting anything about the district's intentions; but then you readily accept the district's clarifications that the Hot Seat questions were "generalized" across BVSD. Do some research yourself!

    You definitely shouldn't be defending Ginger Ramsey, because YOU are the person that put HER on the proverbial hot seat. She is an outstanding Principal who is better off if you are not in her corner.

    Please don't take the term "Muckraking" as a compliment. You stick your nose into situations where your bias has no business. Using "being a parent" as your excuse is just a smoke-screen for your ignorance. Neither teachers or administrators have any use for your type of journalism.

  7. hotfrog says:

    I thought that people who believe in Karma try to exercise tolerance and avoid invective. How about just explaining why you think these types of Oprah Winfrey sessions and questions have academic or scholastic merit? You equate discontinuing these activities with banning the great books of history? Now that's my laugh of the day. Thanks.

  8. Pingback: ‘Hot Seat Freshman Questions’ out of bounds* « Consider This, Too

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