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COURTS HIT PARENTS WITH A TRIPLE WHAMMY
Dec. 21, 2005
Federal judges have just hit parents with a triple-whammy. Two appellate
courts held that parents have no right to stop offensive,
privacy-invading interrogation of their own children in public schools,
and in a third case the Supreme Court indicated that it is not going to
do anything to protect parents' rights concerning schools.
It has become painfully clear that many courts have adopted the notion
that the "village" (i.e., in these cases, the schools) should raise
children. Judges prefer to side with schools and against parents.
When a New Jersey mother was horrified to learn that her daughter and
classmates had been asked how many times they tried to kill themselves,
she filed suit to protect the rights of parents and pupils. She won on
the first appeal to the Third Circuit in C.N. v. Ridgewood Board of
Education, but the school was relentless in litigation to assert its
primary authority and the court finally ruled in favor of the school.
At issue was a 156-question survey called "Profiles of Student Life:
Attitudes and Behaviors," which probed students about their personal
lives and activities. The survey included questions about sex, drugs,
suicide, incriminating behavior, spirituality, tolerance, and other
Questions 92-93 in this survey given to Ridgewood children demanded to
know "how many times" they "had used cocaine" in their lives, or during
the last 12 months, and the answer choices were 0, 1, 2, 3-5, 6-9,
10-19, 20-39, and 40+. This gave students the false impression that
casual use of cocaine is common and acceptable.
Misleading questions can have a powerful effect. Our legal system
recognizes this by providing dozens of reasons for lawyers to object to
questions in court in order to protect their witnesses from having to
answer improper questions.
Children lack the maturity to tell the difference between questions they
should or should not answer. Children are trained in school that they
must answer the teacher's questions or face discipline or a poor grade.
Ask an adult when he stopped beating his wife and expect to be told to
get lost. Ask a child in the classroom how often he takes drugs or has
sex, and the child will think he ought to answer.
But judges who routinely uphold lawyers' objections to improper
questions in court think it is okay to ask offensive questions of
children in school. In the Ridgewood decision, the court agreed with the
parents that the students' participation in the survey may have been
mandatory, and conceded that the leading questions could be suggestive
to students, but nevertheless ruled that parents' and pupils' rights
were not violated.
The Ninth Circuit went even further, marking the school door as the line
where parents' rights end and the "village" takes over. In Fields v.
Palmdale School District in November, the judges ruled that the right of
parents "does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door."
Just last Term, the Supreme Court devoted time and energy to a silly
lawsuit over the replacement of a male teacher as coach of a girls'
basketball team. When a teacher has a complaint, the Supreme Court
springs to attention; but when a parent has a complaint about
indoctrination of her child, the Court doesn't even want to hear about it.
In the same 30 days as the Ridgewood and Palmdale cases, the U.S.
Supreme Court refused to review another parental rights case in Crowley
v. McKinney. The High Court is spending its time this Term on a slew of
cases about prisoners' rights (even about the alleged right of prisoners
to read pornographic magazines) rather than hear a single case about
parents' rights to raise their children.
In Crowley v. McKinney, the Seventh Circuit ruled against the parent,
saying that the school has a constitutional right of "the autonomy of
educational institutions." The parent had appealed to the Supreme Court
to recognize the "settled law" of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, which in
1925 recognized the constitutional right of parents to control the
education of their own children.
Even though recognizing the Supreme Court's holding in Pierce that
"Oregon's project of forcing all children to attend public schools
implied a hostility to private education that had no footing in American
traditions or educational policy," the Seventh Circuit ignored its
application to the current case. Does forcing children to answer
questions about sex, drugs and suicide have a "footing in American
traditions"? Of course not.
It hasn't grabbed the attention of the Supreme Court that the Third,
Seventh and Ninth Circuits have ignored the settled law of Pierce. You
can bet the High Court would take a case that requires testing
schoolchildren for use of illegal drugs, yet the Court refuses to face
the issue of requiring schoolchildren to participate in a classroom
survey that suggests doing drugs is normal behavior.
Teachers are not required to answer these intrusive questions, so why
are our children? Evidently parents are the only ones who do not benefit
from equal protection of the law.