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School board announces new date for student survey

Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario gives the go-ahead

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has announced that its new school survey, which includes questions on sexual orientation, will be distributed to students between April 28 and May 20.

The survey is to be completed by students in Grades 7 to 12 or by students’ parents (for students in junior kindergarten to Grade 6.) It should have been released in November 2010, but the survey was delayed after the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) received two complaints from parents.

They had concerns about the anonymity of the survey, potential inaccuracies in the data, how the information gathered would be used, whether there was a process for withholding consent to a child’s participation and the inclusion of questions relating to sexual orientation.

The sexual orientation questions are included only in the survey for students in Grades 7 to 12.

Data collected from the survey will be used by the board to understand the diversity of the school population, identify which student populations need help, what programs are needed to help students succeed and to promote an overall positive school environment.

The survey will be a valuable tool in helping school districts better meet student needs, writes Donna Blackburn, an Ottawa school trustee, in an email to Xtra.

“Research tells us that student achievement is influenced by many factors, including ethnicity, socioeconomics, gender, sexual orientation, student engagement and others. I am very pleased the survey is going forward,” Blackburn writes.

In its final report, the IPC did not recommend any changes to the survey. However, the district has made some improvements to the privacy and information-management elements of the survey.

The changes include a form to notify the school if parents do not want their child to complete the survey or if they wish to complete the survey at home; students who do not have consent will not be in the same room while other students complete the survey; the removal of student identifiers from the research data and detailed instructions on the survey return envelope.