original article: Are you transgender? Vermont Agency of Education wants to know
April 15, 2015 by Bruce Parker
As the governor and Legislature weigh cuts to close a $113 million budget gap, the Vermont Agency of Education is spending more than $23,000 to find out if Vermont school kids as young as 10 are transgender, among other things.
The Vermont School Climate Survey, which was developed over the past few months at the request of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, seeks to help school administrators know more about the student learning environment.
The online survey is nearing completion in 12 pilot schools and uses funds from the High School Completion Program.
Based on nearly 50 questions put to students, researchers hope to gather data on bullying, cyberbullying, sexual identities, race and even guns from children as young as 10 years of age.
In the survey’s section on demographics, researchers ask students to identify if they are male, female or transgender. Another question asks students if their school provides enough learning opportunities about sexual identity and race.
Students have opportunity to indicate how many times in the past 30 days they have harassed others, or been harassed, based on skin color, sexual identity and other variables.
Extra boxes allow researchers to identify responses to bullying. For example, students indicate if they bullied back, got into fights, told an adult or parent, or simply ignored the issue.
The School Climate Survey offers definitions of harassment and bulling, both of which are defined as “experiencing negative actions from one or more persons.” Bullying is distinguished by repeated events. Harassment is distinct in that it’s related to skin color, sexual identity, sex, religion or disability.
Stephen Tavella, the education coordinator administering the survey for the Agency of Education, told Vermont Watchdog the survey is a test run for next year.
“We must be very careful about any conclusions we draw from the pilot. This survey is a preparation for the larger survey we plan to undertake in the 2015-2016 school year,” Tavella said.
“Our expectation for this pilot is not to necessarily have definitive, reliable results.”
Some questions ask students to report on the prevalence of guns and knives at schools. Others ask about use of marijuana, LSD, cocaine, mushrooms, heroin, prescription drugs and glue sniffing.
Tavella said the student portion of the survey is complete. Parent and faculty versions, which also gather data on transgender, are due by the end of the month.
He added that researchers may revise the survey to ensure they are “asking the right questions,” or if they discover flaws in the data.
Jill Remick, director of policy regulations and legal affairs at the Agency of Education, said the goal of the survey is to help administrators make schools better places to learn. She said she hopes the pilot will foster “buy-in” for school climate assessments among school leaders and communities.
The Agency of Education survey is similar to the Maryland Schools Climate Survey, which gathers data related to 13 “climate dimensions” ranging from diversity and safety to social-emotional security.
According to a December memo from Holcombe, school climate assessment is necessary in the wake of the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
“While the Brown and Garner incidents have national coverage, locally we are also working to address injustice in the form of bullying,” Holcombe wrote.
The twelve pilot schools under the watchful eye of researchers include Rutland Intermediate School, Bellows Falls Middle and High Schools, Washington Village School, F.H. Tuttle Middle School, Orange Center School, Rutland Middle and High Schools, Hartford High School, Westminster Center School, and Williamstown Middle and High Schools.
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