Students in Pender County Schools given survey about risky behaviors

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Published: Mar. 22, 2019 at 11:13 PM EDT
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PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Students in Pender County Schools are taking a health survey about risky behaviors, and at least one family is upset with how school staff handled survey responses indicating a student might need help.

March through May, all third through 12th grade students in Pender County Schools will be given the opportunity to complete a nationally-recognized survey called Rapid Assessment for Adolescent Preventive Services (RAAPS).

So far, the three traditional high schools in Pender County have completed surveying students, according to Alex Riley, communications coordinator for Pender County Schools.

The computer-based assessment consists of 21 yes/no questions about issues like drinking alcohol, texting and driving, unsafe sexual experiences, and feelings of depression.

Schools will give students two handouts about the survey beforehand to take home, and parents can sign one of the forms and return it to the school to opt out of the survey, according to a statement from Pender County Schools to WECT.

The full statement from Pender County Schools can be found at the bottom of this story.

A student can also opt out of the survey the day it's administered, according to the statement. All answers are confidential.

If a student's responses indicate they pose an immediate risk to injure themselves, others, or be injured by others, this will trigger school counselors or social workers to meet with the student within 24 hours.

“If a student has given troubling responses that need to be addressed, we’ve instructed and given thorough talks with school administration and staff how we go about getting those children out of class," Riley said. “We want it to be as discrete as possible.

“It’s a preventative measure. It’s an opportunity to be ahead rather than behind. We want to be able to prevent things from happening, to be able to support students and their families best we can. We felt like that survey allowed us an opportunity to do that.”

The survey is paid for by a grant from the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools as part of the N.C. School Safety Grants Program. Teachers were trained in February on how to give the survey.

"It's been a nuclear explosion that's just gotten blown out of proportion"

In an interview with WECT, a father in Hampstead said how his daughter's school handled the survey unleashed pain and suffering, potentially triggering a medical episode.

John, a self-described family man, asked WECT to not list his real name or children’s names to protect his family’s privacy.

John said his daughter is a senior who attends Topsail High School. She lives with a medical condition called pseudoseizures, which John said manifests as an “emotional crash” for his daughter.

Late Wednesday morning, John said he got a call from a Topsail High School counselor about the risky behaviors survey. He said he did not receive the informational papers from his children beforehand.

“He alerted me that my daughter had taken a survey, and from that survey, there were some questions that had been alerted,” said John. “From that, she had been brought in and further questioned, and from further questioning, she had been alerted to be suicidal with a plan.”

John said he tried to explain his daughter’s medical condition over the phone as she sat in the counselor’s office at school. He said his daughter dealt with a similar situation two years ago, and said her doctors should be contacted.

“I said, ‘Can I come out and get my daughter?’ and he was like, ‘Well, I still don’t think that’s a good idea. I want to go ahead and get the mobile crisis team involved, and try to get her committed into a hospital,’" John said. "I said, ‘No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I need to come and get my daughter.’”

The mobile crisis team consists of credentialed and licensed mental health professionals, according to Pender County Schools.

When John arrived at Topsail, he said he was not allowed to see his daughter for 30 minutes, a time period during which he said the counselor urged him to get the mobile crisis team involved.

“When (my daughter) walked in, I immediately looked into her face, and she was drained,” said John, who added he believes his daughter was questioned intensely by the counselor, which began to trigger the onset of a pseudoseizure. “When she finally looked at me, and locked eyes with me, I could tell she had actually pushed to that point. I don’t know how long they had been questioning her, how long they had had her in the room with her before I got there.”

John said he agreed to let the mobile crisis team come to his home later that afternoon after urging from the school counselor.

“That’s what else puzzled me. They actually seemed like I was being pressed to the point where I couldn’t sign my child out until I actually committed to seeing the mobile crisis team,” said John.

According to John, a mobile crisis team member came to their home that afternoon, and eventually told the family that her daughter would be OK.

John said his daughter does not want to return to Topsail High School because she is embarrassed by the episode and fears further questioning from school officials. She is resting and recovering at home, according to John.

“It’s been a nuclear explosion that’s just gotten blown out of proportion,” said John. “I’m not blaming the school system. It’s just that I wish they would have followed the protocol better when they contacted myself or my wife.”

John wishes the school had handled the situation better with his daughter after she took the survey by giving him time to contact his daughter’s psychiatrist, and is concerned other families may have experienced a similar situation.

"All I keep hearing is this survey, and I'm wondering if there are other parents going through something similar with this particular survey," said John.

Pender County Schools said in a statement it “cannot comment on individual student assessments or follow-up measures taken by the school or other agencies.”

Full statement from Pender County Schools to WECT

"Pender County Schools is attempting to be transparent with all efforts to advance our school system for the betterment of our students and community. WECT has requested information that may be of interest to you. Following is an explanation of an ongoing risk assessment survey currently being performed throughout our district.

On September 21, 2018, the Pender Alliance for Teen Health (PATH) was presented a grant from the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools as part of the N.C. School Safety Grants Program. In partnership with Pender County Schools, a portion of that grant was used to fund a risk assessment study through the Rapid Assessment for Adolescent Preventive Services (RAAPS). This survey is a nationally-recognized clinical tool for adolescent risk assessment. The RAAPS assessment was presented to staff members at a district meeting in late January 2019. On February 15, all district staff were presented with information about the survey, and training was given to in-school staff on February 21 on how to administer the survey.

The assessment is taken by students through a computer. Each student is presented their own individual login information. The assessment consists of 21 yes/no questions and takes about 15 minutes or less to complete. All information collected through the survey is confidential.

Before the assessment is given, all students are provided two handouts for their parents or guardians. The first is a sheet of frequently asked questions provided by RAAPS. The second is a form that allowed parents or guardians to opt their children out of taking the assessment. In addition, when a student logs in to take the assessment, they have an opportunity to opt out without the need for parental consent.

Upon completion of the assessment, the information is analyzed for a variety of risk factors, including if a student is an immediate risk to injure themselves, others, or be injured by others. In certain cases, school counselors or social workers will meet with the student within twenty-four hours of assessment completion.

Pender County Schools cannot comment on individual student assessments or follow-up measures taken by the school or other agencies.

According to a study by the North Carolina School Mental Health Initiative, nearly 1 in 5 students in our state has a mental health and/or substance abuse disorder. Of those, 75 percent will not receive treatment in the current system. The implementation of this preventative measure is one of many ways Pender County Schools remains dedicated to fostering a safe environment for our students across the county."

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255

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