RED WING -- Several parents took exception to the return-to-school survey results released last week in preparation for Monday’s Red Wing School Board meeting. They said they felt categorized, left out of the discussion and were never notified that their private data would be incorporated.

The survey was one of three ways the district sought input on distance, in-person and hybrid learning options, but the only one in which people’s answers were categorized by demographic -- and unbeknownst to them. The survey required parents’ names, addresses and the name of their eldest child, but nothing about race, economic status or special needs.

Two people wrote letters to be read at Monday’s board meeting, and several board members received other calls and emails.

For example, one survey result slide read: Parents from some demographic groups were less likely to respond to the survey. Survey response rates for student groups: 31% of students of color, 41% of special ed, 35% of free or reduced price lunch.

"Minnesota Statute 13.05 sub 4 mentions the limitations on collection and use of data. Information shall not be used by government entities for any purpose other than those stated by the individual at the time of collection," Tracey Carlisle wrote, going to say, "United States Code Title 20 Section 1232g (c) protects the rights privacy of students and families in connection with any survey -- not just the results."

Alisa Johnsrud of Hispanic Outreach wrote that many of the families her agency serves were ignored because the survey was delivered only via email and in English. That came after the district’s two call-in sessions were in English and then technology failed so people couldn’t provide input.

The third input option was by invitation.

“The next time we give out a survey we will do some things differently,” Superintendent Karsten Anderson said, quickly adding, “Not that we did anything wrong, but we can do better.”

Board member Holly Tauer challenged that. “We put people in categories,” she said. “Unacceptable.”

She found it especially hard to fathom given the national discussion taking place about categorizing and generalizing people.

“We’re here to educate children,” Board member Jim Bryant said in agreement. “So why do we have a survey that we have to separate people. ... I think everybody has the same goals -- to get their children the best education possible.”

The district hired i3.works, a data company, to collate and link it to their demographics held in a database, but Anderson took responsibility for what happened. He said survey respondents should have been told what would happen with their answers and data, and next time they will be.