sex offense (updated)

Survey questions about sexuality raise school nurses' eyebrows

Some questions about sexuality on a survey of school nurses this week included statements that prompted the UFT to threaten legal action if the survey remained live. (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

The teachers union threatened legal action against the city today after school nurses complained about a survey that allowed them to characterize homosexuality a “perversion” and “disgusting.”

When school nurses logged into their Department of Education email earlier this week, they saw a request from the Office of School Health to complete a survey, titled “OSH High School Nurse Educational Needs Assessment” and hosted on the website

The survey started out innocuously, asking respondents to note features of their schools, such as whether they have Gay-Straight Alliances or similar groups, and rate their knowledge of issues related to sexuality and confidence about discussing them with students.

But on the sixth page, the questions took a jarring turn. A series of eight questions probed, in blunt language, the nurses’ own attitudes about sexuality, asking them to rate how closely they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “Male homosexuality is a perversion” and “I think lesbians are disgusting.” Another question asked them to rate their agreement with the statement, “Just as in other species, male homosexuality is a natural expression of sexuality for men.”

The questions so alarmed some school nurses that they turned to the United Federation of Teachers, their union, where lawyers looked at the survey and saw glaring impropriety.

“Asking such questions of employees is, at best, inappropriate,” the UFT’s top lawyer, Adam Ross, wrote in a letter to the Department of Education’s chief counsel this morning. If the department did not destroy the survey and all responses to it, the union would pursue legal action, Ross said.

“We simply cannot allow our members to be subjected to such intrusive — and improper – questions,” he wrote.

The survey’s origins are not clear. City officials said it was not designed by the department. Instead, a Department of Education spokeswoman said, the survey came from the Centers for Disease Control, a national research center aimed at combating infectious diseases.

“Our Office of School Health is participating in a national pilot with the Centers for Disease Control and the Association of School Nurses to improve health services for gay and lesbian high school youth which includes a school nurse survey that is anonymous and optional,” said the spokeswoman, Erin Hughes.

The survey emerged out of a collaboration of the CDC’s adolescent health division with the city and the National Association of School Nurses professional association, confirmed a CDC spokeswoman, Brittany Raines. But, Raines said, “CDC was not involved in the creation of this survey.”

(Update ¦ Dec. 21: Kenny Lull, a spokesman for NASN, said the association “had no involvement in the creation or dissemination of the survey.”)

By late today, the department had disabled the survey. Clicking on the link pulled up the title of the survey, but no questions, only a small, gray box with the word “Done.”

The union’s letter to the Department of Education about the survey is below:

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”