Facebook Twitter

Survey questions about sexuality raise school nurses’ eyebrows

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 SurveyMonkey.com.

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: