School-Based Research Advocacy
During consideration of HR1, the "Leave No Child Behind" education bill, the House of Representatives passed an amendment authored by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-KS, called the Parental Freedom of Information Amendment. If approved, it would have adversely impacted school-based research by requiring that any survey research done in schools (or done in any setting in which federal Dept. of Education money is employed) in which questions in any of seven specified areas are asked (including sex, reproductive behavior, illegal or antisocial behavior, family relationships) be conducted only with prior, written parental consent. In practice, surveys are often judged to constitute "less than minimal risk" and may be conducted using passive consent procedures. No companion to the Tiahrt amendment was approved by the Senate, so the conference committee on H.R. 1 had to forge a compromise.
The Graham-Tiahrt amendment was not included in the conference report, so the federal government does not mandate that school-based research on risk behaviors be done only with written parental consent. However, the final bill language does require each local educational agency (school district) to develop a policy that will protect students’ privacy in the event a survey on risk behaviors or attitudes is administered. Privacy policies are also to cover how schools will handle parental requests to view curricular materials and view surveys in advance of their administration. Researchers are concerned that, because they are required now to produce policies, school districts will adopt stringent policies without understanding the consequences to research (and ultimately, to the information on which policies on children and youth can be based). It is unlikely that school districts will adopt policies that are friendly to survey research without the involvement of researchers who can explain alternative procedures, such as passive assent, and the ethical review, via Institutional Review Boards, that federally funded research must already undergo as a condition of funding.
You can learn about the school-based research, the history of this legislation, and APA's advocacy on the topic by following the link below: