Legislators introduce bills to prohibit student surveys, online posting of identifying information

NEW JERSEY — Two bills passed by the General Assemblyin June that were meant to protect the privacy of students inthe Garden State also have the ability to greatly restrict therights of the high school student press.

A2351 would require school districts to obtain written parentalconsent before administering most types of surveys or assessments.

Assemblyman Scott Garrett introduced the bill in response toparent complaints about a 156-question survey distributed by theRigdewood school district that probed students’ sexual behavior,drug use and mental stability.

Tammy Happe, a legislative aide for Garrett, said the billwas drafted in an attempt to protect young students.

"Their privacy was something that was being jeopardized,"Happe said of the survey. "Some of the things were privateissues, and [Garrett and his staff] just wanted to set guidelinesso their privacy wasn’t taken advantage of in the future."

The bill, which passed the Assembly June 5, 55-16, is similarto one introduced in Colorado this year. However, Colorado highschool advisers were able to include a provision in their state’sbill that says the law does not apply to surveys conducted bystudent journalists.

Happe said Garrett’s bill does not contain such a provision,and she was not sure if he had thought about that technicalitywhen drafting it."It sounds like it might effect [the student press], andI can’t say whether or not he had that in mind when he draftedthe bill," Happe said.

Another bill, A592, would make it illegal for any personal information aboutstudents to be posted on a school Web site without written consentfrom a legal guardian. This would include an online student newspaper.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Barbara Buono and AssemblymanGeorge Geist, would prohibit school districts from posting anyidentifying information about students — from names to photos– on a school-sponsored Web site.

Critics say the bill will prevent student newspapers hostedon a school district’s Web site from including the full namesor photographs of students in the Web version of their newspapers,despite the fact that such material routinely appears in the printversion of student publications available in public librariesand other places.

Neither Buono nor Geist returned phone calls made to theiroffices by the Report.

Both A 2351 and A 592 are currently in the Senate EducationCommittee.