The Cañon City School District met Monday and heard a presentation from Brian VanIwarden, District Wellness Coordinator, and Jamie Murray, Behavioral Health Coordinator, on why the district investigates its students.
In October 2021, a survey aired at Cañon City High School which, while anonymous, made waves throughout the community. The survey asked students several questions, including examining their personal sexual identity and how/if they thought it played a role in the economy of bullying at school. In a world where the gender spectrum is a hotly debated topic, many parents have been put to the test.
At the November 8 school board meeting, a mother of four, Cindy Nordell, brought her concerns to the board. Nordell’s son received the survey as if it weren’t optional, Nordell said, and he answered the survey because he willingly obeyed his teachers. However, Nordell found herself caught off guard by the investigation.
“No warning from school that instead of my child getting an English or math lesson, they would be presented with a discussion about life choices,” Nordell said. “Actually, that’s not even a discussion, is it?” I hadn’t had a chance to have a discussion with my son about this and he was just introduced to this.
Nordell went on to detail the specific organizations and individuals, such as Youth Truth and Phil Buchanan, who supported the polls and encouraged other parents to do their own research because they “may not be hearing this from the school council”. She went on to explain in detail how she believed the organization responsible for the survey focused on identifying groups of students by race, gender, income, etc.
“These surveys shouldn’t dictate what we teach our children,” Nordell said. “These questions have no basis to build a foundation of learning for our students.”
She then asked that any potential future investigations be published in full in the local newspaper and hopes the school board is prepared to be fully transparent in the future.
“I encourage the board to take this to heart, and I encourage everyone here and every parent in this community to start being aware of what is being said and what is being done in our schools,” he said. she declared. “Let’s support our teachers, let’s support our school but let’s make sure we know what’s going on inside them.”
Members of the school district’s behavioral and mental health team, including VanIwarden and Murray, hoped to shed some light on the district’s decision to implement such surveys.
Murray saw CDC studies that looked at “school connectedness,” which is defined as, “Their teachers and peers care not only about their academic performance, but also about their overall health and well-being.”
By implementing several different programs such as the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, the Behavior Intervention Monitoring Assessment System (BIMAS), and Youth Truth, the district mental health team has successfully curbed suicidal thoughts (by 25% in 2017 for high school students to 9% in 2021) and reduce the number of students with chronic anxiety (from 55% to 40%). They hope to continue their efforts to positively impact the mental health of Fremont County students.
“What we’ve been looking at doing is adding specific targeted interventions which are skill-building activities in small group and whole class instruction that focus on emotional regulation, problem solving and healthy coping skills,” Murray said.
Murray then saw that, according to surveys, 45% of students do not feel they belong in their school community, a fact directly related to the climate and culture of the school, she commented. This is a factor they actively hope to change.
After their formal presentation, VanIwarden and Murray asked the audience if there were any questions and an unnamed parent requested a specific response regarding the gender identity investigation.
“We can assume one thing, depending on how a child identifies that they may feel like they are being bullied, but we don’t know that until we ask the question,” replied VanIwarden.
Typically, before surveys are conducted, a copy of the opt-out form is sent home and is coordinated with an Infinite Campus call and email notification. However, Cañon Exploratory School’s high school and sixth grade were accidentally overlooked when it came to last fall’s Youth Truth opt-out form and survey, but officials said it was an isolated incident.
“The question is not asked of children to identify themselves, although it is anonymous,” Murray said. “It is requested so that we have the information to be able to refine, modify and intervene in relation to our school climate and the inclusiveness of all students who feel like they belong. It’s not necessarily about identifying anything that we would promote, but rather it’s about whether children feel safe and whether they feel included, regardless of their ethnic background, regardless of their demographics, regardless of their gender identification, regardless of their socio-economic status.
VanIwarden wants parents and students to know the nature of optional surveys.
“It is also important to note that these surveys are completely optional and a student can simply choose not to answer any or all of the questions even if they have not returned an opt-out form,” he said. -he declares.
VanIwarden also wanted parents to have the schedule and/or deadlines for the proposed release of the various surveys throughout the year. They are the following:
- Youth Truth polls are released each fall
- Healthy Kids of Colorado surveys are released each fall in odd-numbered school years
- BIMAS performs in the fall and spring