As a parent of a second grader, would you be ok if your child was asked at school to rate this statement as true or false?

“Someone you know, even a relative, might want to touch your private parts in a way that feels confusing.”

Without context, this is a concerning question. Even with context, for some parents, the statement may be disturbing.

According to a Right to Know request, the Downingtown Area School District in the 2022-2023 school year provided a program to all second grade students in the district, entitled Safe Touches. The program is taught by the Crime Victims Center of Chester County. The district described the program to parents in an email communication.

“Safe Touches is a 50-minute puppet-based workshop that will be implemented among second-grade students. The evidence-based curriculum teaches children about healthy boundaries, that it is okay to say ‘no,’ and how to get help from safe adults.”

With this explanation, many parents might see the importance or at least the value of such a program, especially for students who might be in an abusive situation at home. Some parents or teachers might fear that students who live in an abusive home may never get the help they need.

However, every teacher and school employee is already a “mandated reporter” by law and if they ever suspect abuse, they are legally required to report it to the state. Teachers are often the first to notice signs of abuse and report it to the authorities, as evidenced by the decrease in abuse reporting during the extended school closures because kids were not in the classroom and teachers could not pick up or notice the signs of abuse.

There is a delicate balance between ensuring that abused children get the help they need and discussing sensitive topics in school that some parents prefer to have at home.

The email further said, “at the conclusion, children will be asked to complete a short survey to measure their understanding of the material that was presented. The survey will not include any identifying information about the student.”

The post-survey asks students to rate ten statements that alternate between checking for understanding of the content and random assertions. 

First and foremost, I am not raising this issue because I have a problem with the Crime Victims Center (CVC) or even this specific program. There are undoubtedly children that could benefit from the message. The CVC is a non-profit organization that provides a valuable service in our community to help families who are the victims of domestic violence.

As a private agency, they can offer any manner of program to school districts. However, it is up to each publicly funded school district to determine if the program is appropriate for students and to be completely transparent with parents about the content. Ultimately, parents should decide if their children can participate.

While Downingtown did notify parents about the program and the post survey, they did not include a copy of the survey that would be used. Parents had the opportunity to opt-out of the Safe Touches program and the subsequent survey. 

A federal statute requires that parents of minor children give written permission for their child to participate in a survey that “reveals information concerning … mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family; sex behavior or attitudes; or critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships.”

The Downingtown Area School District’s policy references the Protection of Pupil Rights statute and contains this language:

“For a student to participate in a survey, personal analysis, evaluation or research study not conducted by the district, the parent/guardian or eligible student must complete and submit a written consent form to the building principal.”

Based on this statement, it appears that Downingtown did not follow their policy. The survey was administered by an outside agency and parents had the ability to opt-out, but they did not have to grant affirmative permission in advance of the program or survey.

While the difference between opt-out and opt-in may seem inconsequential, it is not. Parents are busy and receive many emails and notifications from the school district. A quick read of the description without seeing the survey may have led parents to think it was ok. For those parents who missed the email or just did not read it, their children participated in the program without affirmative permission.

Downingtown Area School District did not return two requests for comment regarding their policy.

Conversely, the West Chester Area School District also hosted the Safe Touches program in the majority of their ten elementary schools, but they did not use the survey. Right to Know documents confirmed this as well as a subsequent statement from superintendent, Dr. David Christopher.

“If the survey was administered we would follow our board policy, but it was not part of the program for our district.”

However, West Chester also used an opt-out, as opposed to an opt-in system, for parents who did not want their child to participate.

Questions about the CVC programs and surveys initially surfaced in the nearby Unionville Chadds Ford School District. A local parent, Chad Williams, started questioning the district about a high school program, Safe Dates, back in 2023. 

According to Williams, the district has been anything but transparent. When several parents initially asked school board members questions about the program, the superintendent, Dr. John Sanville said that any concerns about the program were unfounded and based on misinformation. 

Williams submitted multiple Right to Know requests, and he claims that the district withheld documents they are required by law to produce. A year later and he still has not received a copy of the survey used for the Safe Dates program.

In April 2024, as Williams reviewed documents in preparation for filing an Educator Misconduct complaint against Dr. Sanville, Williams discovered emails from CVC employees to school district teachers along with documents summarizing the results of the survey. Williams emailed the school board and administrative staff about the documents and his belief that the surveys violated district policy and federal law. 

The high school principal responded a few weeks later with the results of her investigation of his allegations. 

“In review of the past practices related to the safe dating lessons conducted by CVC and the surveys administered in the classroom, I have determined that Board Policy 235.1 was not followed and necessary parental notice should have been issued in advance of such surveys consistent with the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment. In response, my office shared with the applicable teachers the necessary requirements and obligations related to Policy 235.1. My office also shared with all teachers at UHS the requirements and obligations of Policy 235.1.”

While the district acknowledged to Williams that it did not follow policy, it did not inform parents of the breach, nor did the principal share the survey questions. The investigation letter concluded by putting the blame on the former principal who is longer employed by the district.

Subsequently, I submitted a Right to Know request for the same documents, and while I did not receive a copy of the survey as requested, there was a link to the online survey. By answering the questions, I was able to see all the questions and closing statements. 

The survey asked students to identify their gender as man, woman, transgender man, transgender woman, non-binary, and prefer not to say.  Other questions asked about dating practices. Below is an example of one question.

At the conclusion of the survey, this screen appeared.

The CVC offered private meetings with students to discuss “anything at all” and parents were not notified.  

It is laudable that district officials finally acknowledged that they violated their policy by allowing the agency to administer the surveys without parental notice or consent. However, simply stating that they informed teachers of the policy and blaming the breach on the former principal is indefensible. 

The district should have offered a public apology and provided the survey questions to the parents of every student who took the survey. Yet, when parents showed up at the June 10, 2024, board meeting, the board members refused to respond to their questions about the issue.

Even more shocking is that school board members refuse to meet with Williams about the incident or provide a copy of the survey despite numerous requests to do so.

I made multiple requests for comment to the district, and they were ignored.

School districts have a legal and ethical responsibility to be transparent with parents about the information that is being shared with their students. While the three districts handled the situation differently with varying levels of transparency and compliance with their policies and federal law, all could offer higher levels of transparency with an opt-in as opposed to an opt-out process.

How many parents might have made a different decision if they had to give affirmative permission for their child to participate? Given the sensitive nature of both the Safe Touches and Safe Dates programs, districts should err on the side of caution and only include students whose parents opted them in.

Based on the Right to Know request information and the lack of comment from Downingtown, it appears that they did not follow their policy and second graders were given a survey with highly sensitive statements.

Unionville Chadds Ford has already acknowledged that it did not follow its own policy and has done very little to address the problem or to take responsibility for the breach. If not for Williams pushing the issue for a year, the problem would likely have been unnoticed.

Williams remains upset. “It is unconscionable that a parent should have to go to the lengths I’ve gone just to get transparency and accountability from public officials. After my experience, I seriously wonder if politicians in Harrisburg will ever pay attention to parental rights and hold public officials accountable for abusing their authority and violating the law.  What more do parents have to do to protect our rights?”

Parents deserve honesty and transparency regarding what their children are taught in school. If districts want parents to entrust their children’s education to them, it is incumbent upon administrators and board members to comply with the law and adhere to the highest ethical standards. Trust is earned, and transparency breeds trust – a lesson that many school districts have yet to learn.

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at

4 thoughts on “Beth Ann Rosica:  Survey says: Schools skirt parental consent”

  1. None of this should be the province of the schools. They should concentrate on doing what they were designed for – educate students . They hardly are excellent in the fundamentals; since they are deficient there, what capabilities do they have for venturing beyond them.
    The questions for second graders were creepy and, when I was a teen, I would have found the school’s questioning me about my dating – innocent though it was – uncomfortably intrusive. Furthermore, accustoming children to having institutions questioning them about their personal lives sets them up for agreeing to intrusive government .

    1. “None of this should be the province of the schools. ” Then who should be responsible for teaching this?

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