Utah School Board withdraws support for SHARP Student Health and Risk Survey

After collaborating for nearly 20 years with state health and human services agencies in a two-year student survey of health and risk prevention, the Utah State Board of Education has voted to withdraw its support.

Some board members have expressed concerns about the study, which requires parental permission for a student to participate. School districts choose whether to participate, and nearly all have done so since the survey began in 2003.

The survey is administered to students in grades six, eight, 10, and 12 in most Utah public schools every two years. The next state survey on student health and risk prevention (SHARP) is scheduled for February 2023.

Board member Natalie Cline said at a recent board meeting that she would vote to get rid of the poll because “I don’t know if it’s helping as much as it hurts.”

Cline said, when she put herself in the shoes of a teenager, “the dark questions from the survey make me anxious, depressed, suicidal, and make me think about things I never would have thought of. It teaches me to use drugs and think. to use it often. It makes me think that suicide is a legitimate option to deal with the discomfort and challenges of my life. It makes me see my parents as the source of my problems. “

He continued, “The SHARP survey said nothing about many children’s favorite stimulant, pornography, which is readily available and accessible anonymously in the library and school classroom.”

Another council member questioned the length of the prevention needs assessment survey of 120 questions, particularly for younger students surveyed in grades six and eight.

Other council members objected to abandoning council support for the survey, which state officials say has helped address the rise in teen alcohol use and has generated effective strategies to curb vaping among young people. suicides and informed the creation of the SafeUT app, which provides real-time crisis intervention.

Board member Scott L. Hansen said withdrawing board support “is premature and irresponsible.”

The board reviewed the poll two years ago and voted to support it, he said. The survey produced a series of data dating back to 2003.

“We have this train that we have been driving for some time, this body of data, and withdrawing our support before we have a replacement is just irresponsible. We put in place a task force or a working group. Let’s take a look as we support it, then make any changes we need. Why give a signal to all our LEAs (local education agency) that we don’t want this data? Some of them might be affected by this and drop out and then we lose the ability to do anything with it, “she said.

Hansen acknowledged that council members have concerns and suggested that perhaps the pornography questions could be added to the survey.

Although the board voted late last week to withdraw its support for the 2023 survey, that doesn’t necessarily mean the survey won’t be conducted in Utah schools next year. School districts and individual schools may decide to continue administering the survey, which is funded by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services with in-kind support from the State School Council. Schools also have the option to opt out.

The survey was a collaborative effort between the Department of Health and Human Services, the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, the Utah State Board of Education, and the Bach Harrison research company.

“Students will take it no matter what we say because it’s not our survey,” said state school co-vice president Cindy Davis.

“The only thing this whole discussion is doing right now is deciding whether to put our USBE letterhead on the front of the survey. … This survey is published regardless of whether we do it or not. So I think everyone needs to have a clear understanding of what’s happening here, ”she said.

Davis said she supported a working group “because if we’re going to put our name on it, honestly, we have to be comfortable with it as advice.”

The working group is expected to report to the full board at its October meeting.

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