Ethics in Research and Evaluation - Case Study 2

You are the program director of a youth development program targeting at-risk youth. The program takes place in in four local middle schools in the same district. The program provides three types of services: 1. In-classroom volunteers who  work with teachers to build the student’s academic skills; 2. After-school mentoring and tutoring; and 3. Family strengthening courses on weekends for the students and their families.

In addition to providing direct services to students and families, you entered into a partnership with a local university professor to conduct research on the effects of this program on student academics (grades and attendance), pro-social skills (a survey on pro-social and risk behaviors) and family bonding (survey on family perceptions). You are listed as a co- investigator and the professor is the Principal Investigator. This work was deemed research by the university and has IRB oversight from the university and the district. The study also follows the FERPA and PPA policies for student data. Following the IRB regulations,  parental consent and youth assent  were attained. All data is to be stored as specified on the consent/assent forms and in the research protocol.

After a family strengthening session, a  parent approaches you and wants to know what their child entered on their survey. The parent says she is worried about her child using drugs and wants to know their child’s answer to a question related to perceptions of peer drug use. The parent also wants to know about her child’s grades.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How should you direct the parent?

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    The parent should contact the Principal Investigator (PI). It is very likely that the parental consent form developed under guidance of the IRB, district policies, and PPRA/FERPA explicitly states what data the parent has access to and what data is protected.

    This protection usually would not allow the survey data to be disclosed unless the student indicated they might harm themselves or others. This information would be specifically detailed in the parental consent form spelling out exactly what data would be protected for both the parent and child. The PI can review the guidelines in the study protocol and/or contact the IRB and the district to ensure human subjects protection.


  2. What about the student’s grades? Doesn’t a parent have the right to access their child’s grades?

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    Yes, according to FERPA the parent does have the right to request student education records. However this information needs to be requested through the school. The researcher, following study protocol, cannot reveal that information and should direct the parent to make the request through the school.


  3. What other assistance could you provide to the parent?

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    Without disclosing any protected information you could also provide the parent with a list of community or school resources available to help with family issues or substance abuse.