Children learn better when they feel safe and secure at school and in the classroom.
And even though the latest results from the 2012 California Healthy Kids Survey released last month at a meeting of the Tehachapi Unified School District Board of Trustees showed that the majority of students feel safer than they have in the past, other areas of the survey show there is still a need for improvement according to Superintendent of Schools Lisa Gilbert.
"I think it's important to look at the results, and revisit all of the things we are doing, and ask if they are making a difference, and if they are effective," Gilbert said. "This is definitely a tool to make sure we are having those types of conversations, and help to evaluate that."
Administered by the district every two years since 1998, the voluntary anonymous grade-specific survey given to students in fifth through 12th grade, gathers information on behaviors such as physical activity and nutritional habits; alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use; and environmental and individual strengths.
Also included this year for grades 6-12, was a custom module focused on dealing with sex and gender based harassment, identity, bullying, LGBT, and safety.
According to the report, an average of 72.8 percent of sixth through 12th grade students reported feeling safe or very safe at school -- 12.3-percent higher than the California state average.
The results also showed that alcohol and marijuana use among those students was higer than the state average, while the numbers relating to sexual jokes, comments and gestures, were consistently higher than the state average for middle shoolers.
Also higher than the state average among middle school students, was the fear of physical violence, and LGBT and gender related harassment. With 59 percent of middle schoolers reporting being afraid of being beat up once in the last 12 months, and 56.9 percent feeling that LGBT students were not safe at their school.
However, Gilbert made clear to the board that the responses didn't speak for all students, as not all take California Healthy Kids surveys, and there are inevitably some who don't answer truthfully.
Meanwhile, several areas showed significant drops among high schoolers, with just 14.5 percent reporting being afraid of being in a physical altercation, and just 8.75 percent reporting being harassed for sexual orientation. That compared to the state averages, 18.25 and 10.25 percent respectively.
"The reports for overall physical violence are low in our high schools," Gilbert said. "And incidents of negative comments or bullying related to LGBT harassment decrease as our students mature, going from middle to high school."
Nevertheless, the numbers are still cause for concern, as students who responded to questions about sexual orientation -- when grouped together -- reported a lower perception of school safety, lower school connectivness, higher rates of bullying, higher rates of depression including suicide, higher absenteeism, lower grades, and higher rates of alcohol and drug use.
The meeting came to a close with several parents speaking out in disapproval of the district's decision to utilize passive consent for the administration this year's survey to seventh to 12th graders.
"They changed the survey to passive consent to get the statistical results they wanted," said Tamara Shultz. "And in the meantime they really upset the community over the LGBT module that they had in there."
Until this year, allowing parents to opt out has resulted in low survey participation.
In 2010, the number of students participating fell so far below the number of students required, the data was deemed unusable as it was not representative of the entire group. Only 53 percent of the students in seventh grade took the survey, 29 percent in grade nine, and 48 in grade 11.
Those numbers are what led the district to utilize passive consent for the survey administration this year.
Per California Education Code 51938(b), school administrators are provided with two options for gaining the informed consent of study participants: an active consent process or passive consent.
Passive means that a parent who does not wish a child to take the survey must sign a withdrawal form. Much different than active consent, which requires written permission or withdrawal.
However, Gilbert addressed the board, stating that she will be recommending that the district move back to active consent for the 2014 survey, along with conducting an outreach effort aimed at helping parents to understand why the survey is important.
"Ultimately it's the parents right to decide whether or not their student will participate in the survey, and we want to honor that," Gilbert said.
Invisible Children presentation nixed
Trustees also decided at their Sept. 25 meeting, to scrub the presentation of the Invisible Children Fall Tour 2012 that was scheduled for Oct. 1 at Tehachapi High School.
Invisible Children, Inc,. is a nonprofit organization that calls attention to atrocities committed in Uganda and other East African countries. At the center, is a 30-minute film, Kony 2012, thats aimed at exposing the rebel guerrilla Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army using children as soldiers.
Trustee Carrie Austin said that while she was not concerned with the group's message, she was interested in what the overall objective would be after students had viewed the movie.
Trustee Leonard Evansic verbalized his disapproval, saying that he was not comfortable with the merchandise that was tied to the movement.
"They are popularizing this mass murderer who turns children into child soldiers," he said. "All of their merchandise shows this, and it could be misinterpreted in our community."
Invisible Children promotes its cause by dispensing films on the Internet and presenting in high schools free of charge, soliciting donations and selling T-shirts, bracelets, and other items to raise money.
According to an article published by USA Today, in April of this year, revenue from those sales totaled $3.4 million. An additional $10.3 million came from donations, according to tax reports.
Tim Traynham, vice president of the board, suggested that the district reach out to other districts to ask what their experience has been, to allow the board to consider rescheduling a future presentation.