EXCLUSIVE – The Southeastern Legal Foundation called for an investigation Sunday into whether a school district is violating the privacy rights of students and their families by having students fill out surveys that include questions about their sexual orientation and the political beliefs of their parents.
The conservative legal organization sent a letter on the behalf of a group of concerned parents to Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, R., requesting his office launch an investigation into the Webster Groves School District (WGSD). The request specifically calls for Missouri’s attorney general to investigate the State Board of Education, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Webster Groves School District and related third parties if the data collected from the surveys violated state and federal law.
“Parents in WGSD have a well-founded concern that the student surveys administered in their schools violate both state and federal law and respectfully ask that you investigate further,” SLF’s letter stated. The parents allege the surveys were mandatory without their consent. It also cited experts who describe the surveys as what people would see in a doctor’s office or mental health facility. The surveys documented included questions about students’ gender identity, mental health, racial identity and political beliefs.
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Political beliefs is one topic that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education forbids school districts from collecting and reporting. According to SLF’s letter, high school students taking a government class have to take two surveys which identify the student’s political affiliation and take a screenshot to send to their teacher. The two surveys on political beliefs are the E-Congress Political Ideology Survey and the “I Side With…” political quiz which ask questions about an array of issues to determine the respondents’ political ideology and political party.
The surveys are often created and conducted by third parties. Panorama Education, Inc. and Project Wayfinder helped administer surveys to the Webster Groves School District. A spokesperson for the school district said they have a service order with Panorama for a cost of $19,000 next year. According to the websites from the two groups, they both employ social-emotional learning (SEL) to improve the schools’ curriculum and the students’ education.
The WGSD uses Wayfinders Waypoints weekly surveys, which are conducted in an advisory class at the high school. Students are given a prompt which they then rank on a scale 1-5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The prompts focus on several topics like mental health, self-awareness, community, relationships, agency and energy. The SLF obtained the prompts students were given.
“I feel safe to talk about race, culture and identity at school,” one prompt stated.
“I feel supported by my family,” another prompt reads.
“I feel safe to talk about race, culture and identity at school,” another asked.
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In addition, the school district required middle school students to fill out student-created surveys which included topics on “LGBTQIA+ Struggles!” and racial identity that promoted the Black Lives Matter logo.
Parents told the SLF that their kids were required to take these surveys, and the organization exclusively provided Fox News Digital with screenshots from parents of some surveys the school gave to students.
Kimberly Hermann, general counsel for the Southeastern Legal Foundation, told Fox News Digital parents have turned to SLF because they are tired of schools dividing students and replacing “traditional education” with curricula focused on race, gender, sex and politics. When asked why parents aren’t coming forward publicly with their concerns, Hermann said they have chosen to remain anonymous for their safety.
“Unfortunately, we live in a world where parents who speak out are being doxxed and threatened on a daily basis. We saw this last week with the Libs of TikTok doxxing. We have witnessed the U.S. Department of Justice open a special office to investigate parents who attend local school board meetings, which is further meant to intimidate,” Hermann told Fox News Digital. “For our clients’ safety and that of their families, they have chosen to remain anonymous at this time.”
Missouri law states that school districts must comply with all state and federal privacy laws including the federal Family Educational Right and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). FERPA gives parents the right to access student records and the right to have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information of their children. PPRA allows parents a right to review all instructional materials, and it prevents schools from asking students about certain topics without parental consent like political affiliations of the student or their family, mental or psychological problems, sex behavior or attitudes, religious practices and more.
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“Webster Groves School District violated federal and state privacy laws when it required students to provide personal information without parental consent on their political beliefs and those of their family members, on their mental health, on their sexuality and identity, and on their personal family relationships. Each of these are protected under law,” Hermann said.
When asked about the surveys they administer to students, a spokesperson for the Webster Groves School District said surveys are voluntary and parents are given a notice and have the option to review the questions. The WGSD has on their website the results of their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Social, Emotional, Learning Survey that is given to grades 3 through 5 and 9 through 12. Grades 6 through 8 were given a survey from Panorama that included nine questions.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt talks to reporters with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in their case about Title 42 on April 26, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Paxton and Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate, are suing to prevent the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from lifting Title 42, a coronavirus pandemic health order used by federal immigration officials to expel migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Hermann said these surveys aren’t included in their letter to the Missouri attorney general. Fox News Digital followed up with the school district to ask about whether the Wayfinders Waypoints weekly surveys, student-created surveys and political surveys were voluntary and parents were given consent for those questions. The spokesperson said the district didn’t “have any information about other surveys such as class assignments” and that one would need to contact the individual schools for that information.
Panorama told Fox News Digital that all decisions about survey content and how they are administered are made by the school district, in addition to what topics and questions are asked. When asked about FERPA and PPRA, Panorama said they comply with both laws and that all data collected is owned and controlled by the school district.
“Panorama surveys do not ask about political beliefs, affiliations, or ideologies. We support schools in measuring social-emotional learning, understanding school climate, and gathering direct input from their community,” a spokesperson for Panorama stated. “Our technology connects what students and families want to see in the classroom with the school districts who can make it happen.”
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The SLF is confident that Schmitt will launch an investigation into whether the surveys violated students’ and parents’ rights.
“Based on the Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s actions over the last six months fighting for parental rights, these are excellent indications that his office will launch a full and detailed investigation into WGSD, the State Board, DESE, and third-party vendors like Panorama and Project Wayfinder,” Hermann said.
Fox News Digital also reached out to Wayfinder for comment, but the organization has yet to respond.
Andrew Kugle is an editor for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to email@example.com and on Twitter: @AndrewJKugle.