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It’s with mixed feelings I watched parents send their children to school at summer’s end. I know the wiggle room parents gain during the day, they often lose to homework in the evening. I also know that without effort parents and children can lose some of their privacy.

When my children were in the Boulder Valley School District, they were asked numerous questions that were none of the teachers’ business. These examples are ancient history now. What is relevant and current, however, is that by district policy questioning that started out with “What did you do last summer?” still can easily move in whatever directions teachers want to go.

Though the issue likely is not unique to the BVSD, one current BVSD example is the 20-question “Hot Seat Freshman Questions” getting-to-know-you activity used in August in the Freshman Seminar, a required elective the district calls a “transition” course.  Among other questions, teachers asked 9th graders: “Do you have a significant other? Who is it?” and “Who do you have a crush on?”

Ginger Ramsey, principal of Broomfield High, one school where the questions were used, quickly and kindly clarified for me: Teachers and upper-class student helpers “break the ice” in class by answering the questions first. Students can “pass” on any question and voluntarily take the “hot seat” in front of the class.”

I received a telephone call on Oct. 9 from Deirdre Pilch, assistant superintendent for school leadership, in my request for a response to my public comment in the Camera, a Boulder, Colo., newspaper, on Oct. 3. She validated my concerns about the questions mentioned here and raised concern about another question I had included in my original submission: “What is your biggest regret?” Pilch said she and Ramsey agreed “schools should not be asking 9th graders about their dating practices and who they have a crush on.”

If students were to answer the questions honestly, they would be opening themselves up to potential bullying and would disclose their sexual orientation and interest or lack of in dating relationships. As I have high regard for Ramsey, I was not surprised to hear Pilch say that had Ramsey known the questions beforehand, Ramsey would have talked with teachers about using them.

Pilch added she sent out an e-mail to principals asking Freshman Seminar coordinators to discontinue the “Hot Seat” activity. She didn’t save a copy but did track down one for me. Pilch said in her Oct. 9 e-mail at 10:07 a.m. to Don Stensrud, Ginger Ramsey, Kevin Braney, Jerry Anderson, Rich Salaz, Kurt Levasseur, and Rhonda Haniford:

“Please take a look at this Freshman Seminar activity. We have had a little controversy arise over it. So, have a conversation with your Freshman Seminar folks about the appropriateness of this in terms of kids who might be uncomfortable with the questions about date, crush, significant other, regret.

“Thanks for looking at this. It is not representative of our goals for Freshman Seminar, so please ask your staff to discontinue use.”

A naïve conclusion to this situation is to say all is well now. The shocking questions so obviously out of bounds were removed from the classroom. Unfortunately, a closer look shows the exact opposite. Children and their families are still at risk.

The first sign was the assistant superintendent didn’t retain a copy of her request the activity be discontinued. Another was the district doesn’t have the smart tools of district policy and training to assure the new path will be maintained. Dr. Chris King, BVSD superintendent, and the school board are in a position to remedy this situation. We’ll see what, if anything, they will do.

Every student in every school district could be under the same difficulties of being asked questions that they find uncomfortable answering. The question is what to do about it? Until superintendents and school boards act favorably, students who encounter these “Hot Seat” questions or any others they feel uncomfortable answering should either decline to answer or respond with fiction, the more outlandish or creative the better. In fact, I see no other way to protect student and family privacy.

 

Here is the complete list of 20 “Hot Seat Freshman Questions” used in the Boulder Valley School District Freshman Seminar: 

  1. What is your full name (including middle name)?
  2. What activities do you participate in at BHS?
  3. What are things you do outside of school?
  4. What do you like most about BHS?
  5. Do you have any brothers or sisters at BHS?
  6. Do you have a significant other? Who is it?
  7. Who do you have a crush on?
  8. If you could date a celebrity, who would it be?
  9. Where is somewhere you’d like to travel that you’ve never been?
10. What is your favorite subject at BHS?
11. Who is your hero? Why?
12. What is your definition of happiness?
13. Describe your worst haircut?
14. What is your biggest regret?
15. Do you have a job? Where? If not, where do you think you’d like to work?
16. What are your GPA goals for this year?
17. Where were you born?
18. What state would you love to live in?
19. What do you want to do for a career?
20. Have you ever been outside the country?


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