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Student Risk Screening Scale opt-out deadline concerns Houston County parents

Teachers are asked to rate each student on whether they're aggressive, have a negative attitude, emotionally flat, shy or withdrawn, sad, depressed, or anxious.

HOUSTON COUNTY, Ga. — A Houston County mom took to Facebook to share her concern over a section of this year's Houston County School District's student handbook.

Within 72 hours, she had a lot of support from other Houston parents.

The Houston County School District plans to start using what they call is the Student Risk Screening Scale - Internalizing, Externalizing (SRSS-IE), in all their primary and elementary schools, but dozens of parents don't agree with it or how they found out about it.

As most of you know, every school year, your child gets another student handbook.

"As I was going through the handbook, I noticed a section named Project AWARE; and when I looked, it talked about this screening, the SRSS-IE; and I was like, 'That is odd, I haven't seen something like this before. Let me dig into this a little more,'" Weede said.

In the student handbook, the Project AWARE section says teachers will complete questionnaires, twice a year, about each student.

Teachers are asked to rate each student on whether they're aggressive, have a negative attitude, emotionally flat, shy or withdrawn, sad, depressed, anxious or lonely.

Houston County School District Counselor, Hannah Wells, says they'll use information to provide support services.

"If there are other students in their grade level, in the classroom that are also having similar behaviors or struggles, then it allows me to pull small groups or to do classroom guidance lessons to specifically target those areas," Wells said.

But Sarah Weede and other parents say they don't want children being labeled.

"Does this mean your child is going to have an asterisk next to their name in the following year so their new teacher can identify, 'Hey, this child is high risk'?" Weede said.

"Our teachers observe classroom behavior every day. They are frontline observers on social and learning behavior development; and as a community, as a part of this community and as a parent, we rely on our teachers to give us that information. This is our teachers continuing to do what they do best, which is observe and help our students. The tool is not diagnostic. It cannot provide any clinical sound judgment. We are not attempting to label any students," said Project AWARE Coordinator, Tangela Brice.

Weede says the district didn't properly advertise the program, and they want more time to opt their children out.

"I would want to know, especially something that is so sensitive, this survey that has teachers accessing your child's mental and behavioral traits. I would want to know what's going on. I would like to know what it is. Where the information is going? Are the parents going to be notified?" Weede said.

"We use that data to plan and more forward as a district, helping a student be well, as a whole child, considering their academic and also their behavior. The goal being to enhance our district wide approach to social and behavioral learning development," Brice said.

"It allows the teachers to identify these behaviors, because they are with the students all day and they can speak on these internalizing and externalizing behaviors," Wells said.

"Another thing I found odd. They didn't ask for your consent on this. It just said, 'Your child, or as a member of the Houston County School District, your child will participate in this screening,' whereas all the other forms, I have the option to consent, or I do not consent to my child doing whatever. This is weird. Why are they not asking for consent?" Weede said.

After Weede's Facebook post, several parents called the school district.

Due to that response, the district says it's pushing the opt-out date back, from August 26 to Wednesday, August 31.

If you do not want your child screened, you can write an email to your school counselor by August 31.

Weede says she didn't think the school district was trying to "put them in a bad situation."

"Parents want more answers. We need the school board to be more transparent and upfront with us, because the perception does not look good. The way that they have kind of rolled this out. It does not look good," Weede said.

The Houston County School District also published this FAQ sheet on Friday.

If you have more questions, you can call Tangela Brice at 478-988-6200; ext. 4392.

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