Public shows support for SHARP survey, but State Board of Education won’t fully commit – St George News | #Education

ST. GEORGE — Despite public support for the Student Health Risk Prevention survey, the Utah State Board of Education is not fully convinced the results are 100% credible.

Four hours of meetings in Salt Lake City did, however, result in an amended “letter of information” about the SHARP survey to be sent out to parents and local education agencies. This included reformatting the letter to include terminology and topics to be included in the survey.

Students in grades six and eight, as well as high school sophomores and seniors, are administered the survey every two years. The results reveal trends about mental health, drug use, alcohol use, and more.

In-person and online public comments came from several Utahns during two days of meetings in Salt Lake City, many of whom expressed full support of the SHARP survey. This included Debra Cole, who appeared in person.

“This is a time we need the information from the SHARP survey so we can do crisis prevention and do more than just crisis response,” Cole said.

Debra Cole gives her comments in support of the SHARP survey before the Utah State Board of Education, Oct. 6, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Utah State Board of Education, St. George News

Cole relayed how last year, a coalition of the nation’s leading experts in pediatric health issued an “urgent” warning on the mental health crisis among the youth of this nation, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry. Together this represented over 77,000 physicians and about 200 children’s hospitals.

“For many of our at-risk youth, the SHARP survey is the one and only time that they know they have a voice and feel they are being heard and what they are experiencing makes a difference,” she said. “This is especially important for many of our unseen minorities who often feel there is no other place for them to be heard.”

Benee Larson, representing herself as a parent and also the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition as the co-chair, relayed how the organization utilizes the data collected to help youth with mental health needs, especially ones who are suicidal. She went over the need for the data to help with securing funding for the state suicide prevention plan and from national organizations to fund such efforts.

“We acknowledge there are concerns about asking sensitive issues to our students and that it might cause harm,” Larson said. “But we know based on research that asking things about drugs, sex, mental health issues does not give the students ideas or does it cause them to engage in unhealthy behavior, including suicide ideation.”

Benee Larson of Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition gives her comments in support of the SHARP survey before the Utah State Board of Education, Oct. 6, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Utah State Board of Education, St. George News

Marina Lowe of Equality Utah, representing LGBTQ+ youth, advocated for the SHARP survey. The Washington County School District has previously stated its support of the SHARP survey to St. George News.

However, one parent, Monica Wilbur, expressed appreciation for the state school board in pulling their full support and encouraged the full repeal of the survey. She claimed the tool has multiple hazards and shortcomings.

“Let children control their minds,” she said as she finished her comments.

SHARP is broken down into two questionnaires: the Prevention Needs Assessment and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The terminology pertaining to the use of the results of these assessments was added as follows: “The survey data is used for multiple purposes, including State and Federal programs, community needs, prevention planning, grant writing, and reporting.”

While the original informational letter to parents mentioned mental health, drug use, tobacco use, alcohol use, school safety, antisocial behaviors and at-risk behaviors, the amended letter now will include gender identity, sexual orientation, mental health and suicide and gang involvement.

The discussion will continue on the validity of the SHARP survey at the next board meeting, scheduled for Nov. 3-4 in Salt Lake City

SHARP falls under the authority and direction of the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, in cooperation with the Utah State Board of Education.

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