Clark-Pleasant school board, parent question SEL survey

Clark-Pleasant school board members at their last meeting questioned and rejected a contract to distribute a district-wide social emotional learning survey.

All five members of the Clark-Pleasant School Board on Feb. 21 denied approval of a contract with Panorama Education to distribute the SEL survey to all K-12 students in the district. They plan to consider the contract again this month, after receiving more information and research from school officials.

The board had several questions about how data for the survey would be stored, and what types of questions would be asked, and if such questions were appropriate. They probed Superintendent Patrick Spray on this, and asked him to return in March with more information on the survey, and a better plan for implementing it and selecting questions.

This conversation started largely because a parent with a student at the high school, Heather McMurray, brought up her concerns about Panorama to the board at the beginning of the meeting.

Her primary issues with the contract were how data was to be stored on a cloud-based system, according to the contract. She also took issue with the answer data being attached to students, potentially for their whole lives.

She asked the board to do further research on Panorama and the contract, also asking if the school could do in-house surveys instead.

“It’s very concerning the data is stored on a cloud. Those can be hacked,” McMurray said. “You’re not keeping these surveys anonymous if you’re collecting them tied to a student ID number, which is tied to a social security number, which is tied to their student record. And that is not OK.”

The contract with Panorama Education was originally in the consent agenda section of the meeting, in which members vote to approve various items in one vote. Contracts on that section are typically not discussed or voted on individually, but the school board voted to pull those out to discuss each one.

The majority of the school board members agreed they needed to look more into the contract before approving it.

The surveys

Panorama Education is a third-party educational materials distributor and data collector used by schools around the country. Based in Boston, the company largely specializes in social emotional learning data studies in schools, according to its website.

Spray explained that the school is using Panorama to conduct a universal screener, or survey, for K-12 throughout the district. The survey generally asks questions about students’ emotional well-being, and how they behave in different social interactions.

Clark-Pleasant has distributed a school-wide SEL survey with Panorama once before in the fall of 2021, when the Indiana Department of Education paid for all schools to conduct the survey, Spray said.

The data is tied to each student, Spray said, and he added that Panorama has to follow privacy laws, such as the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. That is all laid out in the contract, according to the document. Data on each student is secure, he said.

He also mentioned this SEL screener is a requirement tied to the Project AWARE funding Clark-Pleasant is receiving from the state, which the school board approved unanimously in January. Project AWARE is a program implemented by IDOE and the state’s FSSA Division of Mental Health and Addiction. Clark-Pleasant joined a cohort along with three other schools in the state to work on creating “sustainable school-based mental health systems and supports for future statewide implementation.”

With the funding, Clark-Pleasant is receiving $38.39 per student, and a salary for a district-wide wellness coordinator annually until December 2026.

The plan was to start this round of surveys through Panorama this spring before school ends for the year, Spray said.

Clark-Pleasant would then use the data to look at how students are doing mentally. School staff use the data to determine if lessons need to be changed, or how resources may need to be reallocated to best accommodate students’ needs.

Certain answers to questions on the survey can also trigger a “red flag,” which lets school staff know if a student may be experiencing a mental health crisis. A “red flag” can be then shared with the building principal, the director of mental health services and the student’s parents to determine how to help the student, Spray said.

“That’s the only point in time where we go into the individual level of student information. The red flag is, ‘hey, this kid’s in crisis, and they’re in crisis now,’” Spray said.

Each survey is also tailored to each grade level. For example, a kindergartner would not receive the same questions a student and middle or high school would get. Spray listed off some of the questions that could be asked in the survey, such as; Do you have a teacher or another adult from school that is easy to count on to help you? Do you have a family member or adult outside of school that you can count on to help no matter what? How often have you been polite to adults? Did you come to class prepared? Did you pay attention and ignore distractions?

Parents are sent a digital and physical letter prior to the survey being conducted with information about the surveys, and examples of questions. Most importantly, Spray said, there is an option for parents to opt their child out of the surveys. The letters provide instructions on how to opt out.

Parents also can review the results of their child’s survey, and meet with school staff to go over the results, Spray said.

School board’s questions

Board member Linda Polesel said she generally has an issue with across the board surveying of students because it could get into “personal attitudes, values, behaviors and beliefs.”

“The questions you gave us Dr. Spray, a lot of people would agree with those. But how do we know what other questions are also in there? How do we know these questions are age appropriate for the students? It is suggesting things that they hadn’t thought of before?” Polesel said.

She added she didn’t think she could support anything that could “plant ideas in the students.”

Board member Butch Zike questioned why the approval of the contract was coming to them with such a quick turnaround so close to when the school planned on giving out the survey.

Spray said that was because the school wanted the data to prepare for the 2023-2024 school years, and the Project AWARE grant to pay for the screenings was just approved a month prior.

Members also asked if they would be able to see the exact questions on the surveys in advance for approval, and if parents could give input. Board President Dave Thompson also asked if Clark-Pleasant could just make their own survey to distribute in-house.

Spray said a Google survey could be put together, but said Panorama is “very put together” and school officials do have some ability to narrow the scope of the questions.

“There are other vendors out there, but quite frankly, some of the other vendors out there have brought up greater concerns, greater concerns with our community than the one that we’re going with,” Spray said.

McMurray chimed in again to say she saw the Panorama survey questions from fall 2021, and she believed they were not appropriate. But she did not give specific examples of what questions she was referencing.

McMurray also said that she always opts her son out of surveys at school, but he has told her he is still being asked to take them.

“If I opt my child out, my child should not be seeing anything about the survey,” McMurray said. “I’m telling you that’s happening. And opening Pandora’s Box to this kind of mental information that our children are tied to … that’s scary, that’s dangerous.”

McMurray also asked about having the board and parents involved in picking the questions that best meet the needs of the community.

“Not somebody out in California, or wherever Panorama is at, creating these questions that are infringing on a kid’s rights to their own personal freedoms … it’s not everyone’s business to know what they’re feeling on a day-to-day basis, it’s really not,” McMurray said. “Please table it so you guys can do your research.”

Cassandra Shipp, assistant superintendent, said her previous school district used Panorama for surveys before, and they were able to select the questions that would be asked.

“That was the requirement when we went into the agreement, so it wasn’t a cookie cutter product they pushed out,” Shipp said. “We sat for a while and went through the questions, and we were very careful with the wording because we did not want to offend or cause undue harm to students.”

School board members were interested in being more involved with the survey contents, and forming possibly a committee to select questions. They also asked to hold the survey off until this fall.

“We could do the first survey in the fall, and that will give us enough lead time the rest of this semester and this summer to prepare,” Thompson said.

Approval of the contract was tabled to the school board’s next regular meeting set for March 14. The board and Spray are additionally holding a public work session on March 7 at 7 p.m. to provide more information to parents and the public on the Panorama Education screenings.