Omaha high school students this fall will do something the school board has not allowed them to do since the mid-1990s: answer questions about sexual behavior on a federal survey.
Omaha Public Schools board members had previously worried about how the data would be used and noted that students from private high schools were not asked to participate in the survey.
Monday night, however, they unanimously dismissed those concerns in favor of letting organizations and the community learn more about students' behaviors.
“We want the information, even if it is misused,” said board member Sandra Jensen.
The longer version of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey asks about 90 questions, including ones about sexual and violent behavior.
This fall, OPS high school students had been scheduled to take a shortened survey that asks only about tobacco, nutrition and exercise habits.
Last month, the OPS board curriculum committee voted 4-2 against administering the longer survey, with Justin Wayne and Freddie Gray in favor of the broader survey. At the time, Nancy Kratky, Marian Fey, Nancy Huston and Sandra Jensen voted “no.”
Monday night, Wayne asked the board to reconsider the longer survey, and the board voted 12-0 to do so to applause from the 25 or so people in the crowd.
At previous committee meetings, health department officials had prodded the board to approve the longer survey. They told the board that not having data was hurting efforts to get grants that could help students.
“Suddenly, they felt they needed to overcome some of the fear and look at the bigger picture this survey would provide,” Adi Pour, health department director, said Tuesday.
Students who are randomly asked to participate in the survey will need parental consent. The results of the survey are distributed by county name and carry no district or high school identifications. The data also list race, ethnicity, grade and gender.
In 1995, the idea of asking middle school students four questions about their sexual behavior worried parents so much that the OPS board opted for a parental consent form. Soon after that survey was administered, the district opted out.
A 2003 community effort to get OPS students back into the survey was unsuccessful.
Contact the writer: