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Youth Survey Canceled

A controversial survey of risky student behavior has been shelved because of concerns on the part of the contractor who would ask the questions.

Channing-Bete Company, the company that partnered with Fairfax County to administer the Communities That Care youth survey has pulled out of the project because the county refused to hold it harmless from any potential legal problems.

The survey, which was to anonymously ask students questions about risk behaviors including drug and alcohol use, sexual behaviors and suicidal thoughts, among others, was scheduled to be given to randomly selected county sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders April 19 and 20.

"I'm somewhat surprised," said Schools Superintendent Daniel Domenech. "It's useful information in the sense that it allows us to know what the needs are and we can adjust the curriculum."

The survey, which was first issued in 2001 without the questions pertaining to sex, is a county initiative, but was to be given through the schools. Some parents objected to this year’s survey, including specific questions on sexual behaviors, but the county had decided to go ahead. It was expected to cost the county $60,000 to administer.

Domenech was informed by County Executive Tony Griffin that Channing-Bete had requested it be legally indemnified, however, Virginia law prevents the county from making such a provision. Domenech also said he was not aware of any potential law suits should the survey go forward as planned.

It is not clear what impact the demise of the survey will have on the social services grants tied to its adminstration. The county could move forward with a new survey as early as this year or next, said Karen Harwood, deputy county attorney.