A Utah principal apologizes after ‘inappropriate’ classroom survey asked students if they are Mormon or had ever had suicidal thoughts

(Screenshot courtesy of Canyons School District) These are some of the questions 7th grade students at Indian Hills Middle School were asked in an unapproved survey on Wednesday, August 22, 2018.

Are you a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Do you ever worry about whether there will be food to eat at home? Have you or anyone you know ever had thoughts or feelings of suicide? Are you adopted?

Those are a few of the 25 questions seventh-grade students at Indian Hills Middle School were asked last week in a survey conducted on the first day of class. After several parents called with concerns, the principal apologized and said the questionnaire was “inappropriate.”

“We have put measures in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” said Canyons School District spokesman Jeff Haney.

The survey, which was first reported about by the Deseret News, was conducted by two teachers who oversee Utah studies. Haney said they wanted to “get to know their students a little better” and personalize their lesson plans. They did not get approval from school administrators, as per the rule before handing out a questionnaire.

According to screenshots provided to The Salt Lake Tribune, students were asked the questions on a Google form, which noted that “all responses are anonymous.”

“Please be honest in your responses,” it starts. “If there are any questions you are uncomfortable answering, please skip them.”

The survey asks students how old they are, what their favorite colors are, how many siblings they have and which Utah national parks they’ve visited, and then the questionnaire branched into more personal subjects, including their religious beliefs, economic status and health history.

Question No. 9: “Do you have ancestors who were LDS pioneers?”

Question No. 17: “Have you ever known someone with an addiction problem?”

Question No. 20: “Have you or someone you know ever lost their home or been homeless?”

“I think it’s a little crazy that the teachers did that,” said Neal Summers, whose 12-year-old son came home Wednesday and told him he felt uncomfortable with the questions. One in particular asked students if they have ever lost a member of their immediate family. His son’s mom — and Summers’ wife — died about three years ago.

“[My son] doesn’t like talking about it because people treat him awkward. He just wants to blend in,” Summers said. “I think that when you’re in middle school, you want to fit in. You don’t want to look different than anyone else.”

Summers was also frustrated that when he asked to see a copy of the survey, he was told all copies and responses had been deleted. “I think there’s something really wrong with that. I should be able to see anything they give my son,” he added.

He was later able to view screenshots of the questionnaire kept by the school. A few of the questions, he acknowledged, were meant to gauge how much students knew about Utah as they began the class, including if they’ve visited an American Indian reservation here or were born in the state.

On Thursday, Doug Graham, the school’s principal, sent an email to parents telling them about the survey and apologizing.

“While the questions were an attempt to personalize lesson plans and discover students’ understanding of sensitive topics faced by Utah citizens in today’s society, including the socio-economic needs of people in our community, the survey should not have included questions of such a sensitive nature,” Graham wrote. “The survey data, although it was anonymous, has been deleted, and we have discontinued plans for another student survey.”

Haney said the district has spoken with the teachers about the questionnaire and will provide additional training to all staff about reviewing survey materials before anything is distributed to students.