A homework assignment at the center of complaints from school board members during a September meeting focused on the “seven dimensions of wellness” and, while it included a link to an online survey with questions about sexual activity and substance use, did not ask students to turn in their answers.
Maine School Administrative District 75 interim Superintendent Bob Lucy released the assignment Friday, Oct. 15 in response to a Freedom of Access Act request from the Harpswell Anchor. The district had not responded to previous requests.
Lucy declined to answer questions about the assignment, including what school or class received the assignment.
The introduction to the assignment calls on students to explore how each dimension of wellness contributes to a healthy and productive life, as well as to evaluate their own wellness.
The seven dimensions are emotional, intellectual, occupational, social, spiritual, environmental and physical wellness. After reading about each dimension, students had to fill out a chart with two behaviors they practice related to each dimension, as well as one behavior they could practice more often.
The next step was an online “self-assessment,” on a website connected with North Dakota State University. The assessment asks students to review a series a statements and rate their behavior in connection with each statement from 1 (almost never) to 6 (almost always).
Statements for the physical dimension of wellness vary from “I eat a balanced and nutritious diet” to “I use illicit drugs (e.g. marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy etc.)” and “If/when I engage in sexual activity, I use a protective barrier such as a condom or dental dam, to protect myself and my partner from STD’s.”
Assessments for the other six dimensions include one more question about substance use and none about sexual activity.
Upon completion of the survey, the student receives a score for each dimension on a scale of 1-6. The MSAD 75 homework assignment asked for these scores, but not for the students’ answers to individual questions.
The assignment closed with a series of questions on wellness, like which dimension students deem most important to their health and which dimension they deem most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
At the Sept. 9 school board meeting, some members objected to the survey. Alison Hawkes and Eric Lusk, two of Harpswell’s four representatives to the board, were most outspoken.
Hawkes said the survey “violated” kids, while Lusk said the survey ran afoul of district policy and suggested that the board should fire someone. The policy in question requires parental notification and/or consent to survey students about certain subjects, including sexual “behavior or attitudes” and illegal activity.
Lucy, the interim superintendent, said he was reviewing the matter. Board Chair Holly J.P. Kopp said it is “not the board’s job to fire employees” and that the board did not have all the facts.
The board scheduled a special meeting to address members’ concerns, but canceled it when it did not have a quorum.
At its next meeting, on Sept. 23, the board entered an executive session to consult with lawyers about its “legal rights and duties.” The private session lasted about 90 minutes.
The board did not address the survey upon returning to public session, but Lucy mentioned it briefly at the end of the meeting.
“I believe that as a district, we owe it to our students, our staff and community to be clearer about whether the mere asking of these questions should require prior notice and consent of parents,” Lucy said.
He recommended that the board’s policy committee review and clarify the policy in question and that district administrators conduct training on the policy. Until the policy is clarified, all staff must notify parents and obtain their consent for any survey or assignment that asks questions on the topics listed in the policy.
Some attendees at the Sept. 23 meeting expressed dismay with board members’ comments at the previous meeting.
Mike Timberlake, a candidate for school board in Topsham, said that some board members “chose to step way outside their lane and made inflammatory statements regarding a specific unnamed teacher.”
“One board member said multiple times, ‘Kids are being violated.’ That’s a very strong allegation to make without having the facts,” Timberlake said. “Another member said out loud, ‘When are we, as a board, going to say somebody gets fired?’ That is not your role.”
“This aggressiveness towards teachers needs to stop. You’re damaging reputations with false narratives and a rush to judgment,” Timberlake said. “You should not entertain or amplify every extreme viewpoint that’s brought forth. Everyone in our community deserves due process, but this felt like pitchforks in the night, a witch hunt and, as one member stated, trial by fire.”
MSAD 75 includes Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham.