The survey at issue is known nationally as the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). It was developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1990 to "monitor health behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults in the United States." Individual testing jurisdictions can choose to add questions from a CDC list of "optional questions."
On March 20, 2023, the Washington Free Beacon website published a story with the headline "Boston School Distributes Explicit Survey on Oral Sex [and] Transgenderism to Middle-Schoolers" asserting that:
A Boston public school elicited outrage among parents this week when it presented pre-teen students with an explicit survey asking them about their sexual history, including whether they've performed oral sex.
The survey at issue is known nationally as the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). It was developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1990 to "monitor health behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults in the United States." There are, at present, both high school and middle school versions of the survey, which are anonymous.
These surveys, released every other year, are used as part of a national data collection effort by the CDC, and are also used or modified for various purposes at the state or local level. The so-called "national survey" of standard questions is on the CDC's website. In addition to the questions on that survey, individual testing jurisdictions can choose to add questions from a CDC list of "optional questions."
According to its website, Boston Public Schools (BPS) "has administered the High School YRBS since 1993 and the Middle School YRBS since 2013." For the year 2023, the survey is being administered at a subset of Boston middle schools between Feb. 1, 2023, and May 30, 2023. The 2023 survey is publicly available on the BPS website, and it does include a question about oral sex and a question about transgender identity:
7. A transgender person is someone who does not feel the same inside as the sex they were born with. Are you transgender?
A. No, I am not transgender
B. Yes, I am transgender
C. I do not know if I am transgender
D. I do not know what this question is asking
33. Have you ever participated in oral sex? Oral sex is when a person puts their mouth on another person's genitals or private area.
Neither of the above questions are in the CDC's standard national survey, which suggests that they were added by BPS from the CDC's aforementioned list of optional questions. However, neither question is new, nor is their use by BPS unique.
The question about trans identity, for example, appeared on the 2019 middle school YRBS in D.C., the 2019 high school YRBS in Hawaii, and in the 2023 high school survey in Wisconsin. The oral sex question appeared on the 2021 YRBS used by San Diego high schools, and has been used in some middle school YRBSs since at least 2015.
Conservative backlash against these questions, specifically, and this survey in general, is not new either. In 2015, conservative commentator Todd Starnes wrote what is effectively the same story about Massachusetts' inclusion of the oral sex question in 2015 as the Free Beacon did in 2023:
A middle school in Massachusetts is under fire for requiring children to complete a graphic sex survey -- without parental knowledge or consent -- that included questions about sexual partners and oral sex.
In response to this year's complaints against the YRBS, the principal of the Boston public school highlighted in the Free Beacon report issued a statement that read, in part:
We wanted to reach out regarding a district sponsored survey via Boston Public Schools Health and Wellness Department that was administered to one classroom of sixth graders … and one classroom of seventh graders…. The Health and Wellness Office staff administered the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), sponsored by the Office of Health and Wellness on Wednesday.
There are many concerns regarding the age appropriateness of the survey questions related to a number of topics including sexual health. We have reached out and shared these concerns with the Superintendent's Office, Office of Teaching and Learning and the Department of Health and Wellness.
Because BPS's 2023 YRBS for middle schoolers did include questions about oral sex and trans identity, the claim is "True."