Debate on youth surveys pits pot against privacy |

Debate on youth surveys pits pot against privacy


About Colorado’s youth health surveys:

DENVER — Colorado is mulling a change to how it surveys kids about drug use — a debate that pits privacy advocates against marijuana skeptics and health authorities who say the state needs more data on how many kids use pot now that it’s legal for adults.

The state Board of Education is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a survey change to address parent complaints that the survey asks some explicit questions. They say parents should have to give permission in advance before kids take the risk survey, instead of giving parents an opt-out option.

The anonymous surveys are used to chart childhood risk behaviors such as smoking, drinking and bringing guns to school.

The Colorado Department of Education says the youth-risk surveys are sent every other year to randomly selected middle and high school students. The last survey, given in 2013, was given to 40,000 youths in 220 schools. The surveys have been done since 1991.

Current law allows school districts to decline participation or to require parental permission. But parental permission isn’t required by state law. Colorado’s marijuana taxes now pay for the surveys.

The surveys recently drew criticism from some parents who say the questions are too explicit.

“There are major problems with this survey, in terms of its content,” board member Debora Scheffel, a Republican from Parker, said at a meeting earlier this year.

But the parental-permission requirement has some parents’ groups upset. Among them is Smart Colorado, a parents’ group formed to prevent youth access to marijuana.

A recent meeting on the topic even brought out Colorado’s chief medical officer, who pleaded with board members not to change the survey collection.

Only three states require so-called active consent from parents before children complete the risk surveys — Alaska, New Jersey and Utah, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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