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Minnesota parents lawyer up after schools allegedly diverted COVID funds to woke 'equity' survey

Legal nonprofit sent letter to Sartell-St. Stephen School District demanding it take responsibility for failure to seek parental consent for survey asking students what gender they identified with.

Updated: August 2, 2021 - 11:20pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Concerned parents of Sartell-St. Stephen School District (ISD 748) in Minnesota have retained legal counsel after the district allegedly spent $80,000 of money meant for COVID-19 learning loss recovery on an equity audit.

The Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC) sent a letter dated Aug. 2 to Sartell-St. Stephen School District demanding it take responsibility for using federal COVID-19 relief funds to perform an equity audit in which students in grades 3-12 answered private questions about themselves without parental consent.

The letter alleges the district violated federal, state, and its own policy in a Dec. 3, 2020 notice of the survey by not requesting written parental consent or offering parents a choice to inspect or opt out of the survey.

Lawyers allege the survey equated to "forced speech" since students and parents didn't know they could opt out.

The letter cited federal law prohibiting compelled participation in a survey related to "(1) political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student's parent; (3) sex behavior or attitudes; without the prior consent of ... the parent."

Lawyers cited state law requiring the school district inform parents at the beginning of the school year if it identified dates to administer surveys, as well as provide parents timely notice when surveys are scheduled, and additionally allow parents to review the survey and opt out their children.

ISD 748 hasn't responded to a request for comment or a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Center Square to obtain the survey.

ISD 748 policy 520(III)(C) requires: "Surveys containing questions pertaining to the student's or the student's parent(s) or guardian(s) personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality and religion will not be administered to any student unless the parent or guardian of the student is notified in writing that such survey is to be administered and the parent or guardian of the student gives written permission for the student to participate or has the opportunity to opt out of the survey depending upon how the survey is funded."

The survey reportedly asked what gender the children identified as.

Kelsey Yasgar, a parent and member of nonprofit Kids Over Politics 748, said in a statement: "My daughter and others should not have been forced to answer inappropriate questions about their gender identity, racial identity, and other highly private matters without my written consent. We are giving the District a chance to take full responsibility for its actions so that we can all move on to the education of our children without 'woke' indoctrination."

ISD 748 policy 520(V)(C) also requires: "The school district must give parents the opportunity to review the survey and to opt their students out of participating in the survey."

The letter asked the district to do the following to avoid a possible federal lawsuit:

  • Discard and disregard any findings or recommendations of the flawed and illegal survey.
  • Commit never again to force students to take a survey like this without first giving parents a copy and obtaining their written consent.
  • Provide an accounting showing the public the source of the funding for the survey and the amounts paid for it, and to whom.
  • Publicly take responsibility for forcing the survey on students and apologize to the parents and students of ISD 748 for imposing it without getting written consent from parents and allowing parents a chance to inspect the survey before making students take it.

"Parents have a fundamental constitutional right to raise their kids as they see fit, and First Amendment rights do not stop at the schoolhouse gates," James Dickey, senior trial counsel for the UMLC, said in a statement. "Our clients simply want the District to take responsibility for its actions and give them assurances that their kids won't be subjected to this kind of illegal intrusion. If they don't, our clients are ready to enforce their rights in Court."

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