Ridge promotes survey on sex, drugs
By George Archibald
A Fairfax County schools survey that asks teens if they perform
oral sex, use drugs or ever have considered suicide is part of a
national grant-harvesting program promoted by Michele Ridge, wife of
President Bush's director of homeland security.
Ridge is the hired national spokeswoman for Communities That Care
(CTC), which developed the youth survey used in more than 400
communities nationwide to collect personal information from students
to help local governments justify federal and foundation grant
applications, said Michael G. Bete, president of Channing Bete Co.,
a Massachusetts firm that devised the data-gathering
Millions of dollars worth of grants gained through CTC
fund community programs that fight drug abuse, delinquency and
sexual diseases, he said.
"We collect primary data from students
self-reporting" about drug use, sexual activity and family matters,
Mr. Bete said in an interview. "Based on their own unique data, we
help communities develop a prevention plan that leads them to choose
proven and existing programs" to reduce youth delinquency and
A public outcry over the 169-question
school survey to be administered to Fairfax County sophomores and
seniors in April erupted last month, after parents objected to its
explicit sexual questions.
The county's 15- to 18-year-old high
school students will be asked: "How old were you when you first had
sex?" "Have you ever had oral sex?" "The last time you had sexual
intercourse, what one method did you or your partner use to prevent
Parents objected to the survey as an invasion of
privacy. The federal Family Privacy Protection Act of 1996 requires
schools using federal funds to get written parental consent before
administering any survey or test to anyone younger than 18 involving
issues of sexuality, personal health, family matters, and political
views or affiliations.
Fairfax County Attorney David Bobzien
ruled last week that no federal funds are involved in the survey and
that it is a local initiative not requiring informed parental
Students are not required to participate in the survey
and can "opt out," he said.
The county School Board voted
Thursday 8-4 along party lines Democrats favoring and Republicans
opposing to allow the survey to be administered.
Schlafly, leader of the pro-family Eagle Forum in Clayton, Mo., a
suburb of St. Louis, says "nosey questionnaires" in schools, which
members of her group have fought for almost 20 years, are "a total
Mrs. Schlafly said the surveys have done nothing to stop
the increase of drug use, sexual permissiveness and violence among
"We already know there's a drug problem. All you have to
do is turn on the TV," she said in an interview. "Whether it's 55
percent or 58 percent makes no difference."
Mrs. Schlafly called
the surveys "completely unreliable. A lot of the kids think it's a
big joke and they give phony answers." Similar school surveys
produced by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
the University of Michigan and a private company called Search
Institute in Minneapolis have outraged parents in many states with
explicit personal questions, she said.
"The suicide questions are
most devastating: 'Tell us all the things that would make you want
to kill yourself.' Isn't that an awful thing to ask a child?" she
Parents in Ridgewood, N.J., have a pending federal lawsuit
against a 156-question Search Institute survey called "Profiles of
Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors," which asked students to
disclose how many times they had used LSD in the past 12 months,
"stolen something from a store" or "damaged property just for
The New Jersey Legislature responded to the lawsuit last
year by passing a Protection of Pupil Rights Act, which required
schools to obtain informed written parental consent before giving
students surveys or tests that asked about sexual, family, medical,
financial or political information.
Nonetheless, the Ridgewood
plaintiffs last month filed a second lawsuit against their public
school district after a 55-question survey was given to seventh- and
eighth-grade students, asking about alcohol and illegal drug use,
sexual activity and anti-social behavior. The lawsuit charges that
students at George Washington Middle School were made to write their
names on the survey and submit it for class credit, without prior
parental knowledge or consent.
Mr. Bete said CTC surveys are
"strictly anonymous" and that no results are reported back "of any
subgroups less than 50" to assure anonymity.
He said it is
necessary for community schools, on behalf of social service, health
and law-enforcement agencies, to collect firsthand views of teens
about their sexual attitudes and behavior; the availability of drugs
and firearms; problem behavior among students; their parents'
attitudes and family history of problem behavior and
"Communities are tackling problems that are truly
there and existing [rather than] run the risk of being an ostrich
and not tackling them," he said. Survey results allow community
leaders to "look at protective factors and risk factors" and develop
"a focused, long-range community action plan for building on
existing resources [to develop] healthy beliefs, clear standards,
and healthy behaviors" for children and youths.
The company helps
clients file applications for scores of grant programs in the
federal departments of Health and Human Services, Justice,
Education, and private foundations, he said. "A grant application
will be easier to write and will be much more compelling because
they've done their homework," Mr. Bete said.
The company's Web
site says local agencies in Fremont, Colo., "generated $2.4 million
in new funding as a direct result of their CTC strategic plan." New
York state's program to reduce marijuana and other drug use by 12-
to 17-year-olds has generated $3 million in state funds and $700,000
in federal funds for 14 communities with the CTC plan, said the
The program brought a $349,000 federal grant
for the DeKalb County, Ga., juvenile court and $1.1 million from the
Department of Labor for the county's youth offender program.
Ridge and her husband, former Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, now
director of the newly formed federal Department of Homeland
Security, "became believers in Communities That Care back in their
tenure" in Harrisburg as governor and first lady, Mr. Bete said.
"They installed it in 120 different communities in Pennsylvania
The South Deerfield, Mass., company's publications
promote sexual abstinence for teens, warning: "It's your life on the
line. Every hour, two people under 20 get HIV ... just in the
Mrs. Ridge praises the Channing Bete program as "a perfect
platform for allowing communities to come together in an objective,
scientific way without finger-pointing. It's a truly bipartisan,
apolitical process that results in better, healthier communities
that help children grow up with more hope, more opportunity, and
Mrs. Ridge did not respond to interview
requests, and the Channing Bete Co. could not describe how she might
use her influence with the Bush administration to obtain federal
grants for local government agencies enrolled in the CTC
Mrs. Ridge is pictured prominently and quoted in the
company's promotional literature. The CTC program was developed by
two University of Washington social development professors, who
conducted a $1 million survey of 9,000 Seattle middle and high
school students in 2000.
The Seattle Times said the survey
concluded that youth "risk factors include uninvolved parents who
don't stress the importance of school; don't enforce rules; and
don't know where and with whom their kids are hanging
Channing Bete bought rights to the program in 2000 and
hired Mrs. Ridge as national spokeswoman. In April, first lady Laura
Bush publicly honored Mrs. Ridge in Hershey, Pa., for her youth
nonviolence efforts. The following month, Mr. Bush appointed Mrs.
Ridge to the board of directors of the federal Student Loan