Castle Rock, CO

DougCo community argues school district's equity survey invites outside influence

Suzie Glassman

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) After nearly a year of back and forth about what will happen to DougCo schools' current equity policy, efforts to solicit feedback from students, parents, community members, and other district stakeholders began earlier this week.

In an email to families, the district explained that it partnered with Hanover Research, an independent research firm based in Arlington, Virginia, to "explore perceptions of DCSD's Educational Equity policy."

Soon after filling out the online survey, a parent emailed superintendent Erin Kane saying, "After I submitted my response to the survey this afternoon, I clicked on a link in the email, thinking I was signing up for the focus group. But, I accidentally clicked on the survey link, which took me back to the survey.

"I was surprised that it wasn't set up to only allow one response per IP address, which is standard in surveys like this."

Briana Stewart, who represents Hanover Research, responded to the parent saying the company meant for participants to take the survey only once.

Yet, district spokeswoman Paula Hans made it clear that the ability to respond multiple times is not a glitch. Instead, she issued a statement saying, “Hanover uses metadata to ensure the validity of respondents (e.g., do they reside in the expected area, are there a suspicious number of retakes from the same IP address, does the data suggest a potential bot).

While anonymous links do carry the risk of people retaking the survey multiple times, Hanover has rigorous data-cleaning processes designed to reduce these and other types of invalid responses.”

Hanover Research responded to a request for comment saying, "For all press inquires, please contact Paula Hans," despite the fact that Hanover Research was hired as an independent party to conduct the survey.

Outside influence in DCSD policy

The concern is that organizations with a vested interest in dismantling the equity policy can gather group members from around the state or country to complete the form.

There is precedence for such action. Laureen Boll, who has given public comment at DougCo board meetings, called on Colorado members of the Foundation Against Racism and Intolerance (FAIR) to email Virginia legislators last fall in support of proposed legislation around gender policies in schools.

The VA policy bars teachers from using students' affirming names and pronouns unless the student legally changes their name and gender marker or their parents instruct school personnel to do so. It also requires schools to delineate bathroom and locker room usage based on "sex" — defined as "biological sex" — and to only accommodate transgender and nonbinary students to the extent federal law requires.

Closer to home, several United American Defense Force members, an armed militia group associated with FEC United, attended a DougCo Equity Advisory Council meeting. No one in the group has children in the district.

Groups who want to uphold the current equity policy could also provide excessive weight in the survey results.

Either way, community members are calling for the district to throw out surveys received since Monday and restart the process in a way that ensures participants can't share the survey or take it more than once.

Since anyone can email the survey link, what would stop an interested party from having non-stakeholders fill it out? The district’s only response was the statement claiming faith in Hanover’s research methods.

Do personal beliefs matter in equity decisions?

Other community members questioned the relevance of some questions and their potential responses.

When asked, "What positive or negative effects might the implementation of Board Policy AB (the equity policy) have on students and staff," participants can select (among others):

  • Increased reflection of my personal religious beliefs
  • Increased representation of my personal values
  • Introduction of content that does not align with my religious beliefs
  • Introduction of content that does not align with my personal values
  • Suppression of individual beliefs or opinions
  • Staff discomfort with class content or discussions
  • Student discomfort with class content or discussions

In an email to Kane, a parent said, "It doesn't matter if the individual's religious or personal beliefs align with what content is being taught; exposure to ideas that one finds objectionable or uncomfortable with on religious or moral grounds does not mean they should not be exposed to it."

According to federal guidelines, public schools can't provide religious instruction but can teach about religion. Schools can use discretion to excuse students from lessons they object to on religious or conscientious grounds. Still, students don't generally have a federal right to be excused from lessons inconsistent with their religious beliefs or practices.

Schools may actively teach civic values and morals, even if some of those values also happen to be held by religions.

Also, teachers and administrators are prohibited from encouraging or discouraging religious activity and participating in such activity with students.

Hanover did not respond to questions about the language used in the survey responses.

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Denver, CO

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