Educators: Do You Know These Important Facts About The Legal Rights of Parents?

While they may not be as present in the classroom, the importance and influence of parents to schools is still a major factor that plays into legal strictures. Just like students and educators, parents have school-related rights as well.

Censorship, secular humanism, and evolution are among the key areas that have recently been at the center of discussions on parents’ rights. The foremost question has been whether or the scope of parents’ rights includes protecting children from exposure to school services and other academic material that parents may find objectionable. This question was asked in Newkirk v. East Lansing Public Schools. The student attended school in Michigan’s East Lansing school district and apparently had problems interacting with other children and teachers. Despite the parent’s refusal to give permission for the student to receive counseling, school authorities sent the student to the school counselor. The parents sued the school district, alleging that exposure to counseling sessions and related psychological tests caused their child to have panic attacks and separation-anxiety attacks. The stance of the U.S. Supreme Court was that the school had not done anything wrong and that the Newkirk’s parental rights had not been violated in the process.

Echoing similar sentiments was the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Curtis v. School Committee of Falmouth. The Falmouth School District adopted a policy of making condoms available to junior and senior high school students, along with AIDS-prevention pamphlets. Condom vending machines were installed in the restrooms. Some parents objected to the policy, alleging it to be violation of the Free Exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ”). The court asserted that as long as students were not being forced to take the condoms, and parents were not compelled to advise their children to take part in a personally objectionable proposition, then the objection to the public school programs was unacceptable.

A similar situation was faced in a Chelmsford, Massachusetts, high school, where the parents of two students took the school to court, outraged that they were not allowed to prevent their children from attending the AIDS Prevention and Awareness assembly organized by the school. The court’s verdict was again in the school’s favor, and the parents’ appeal in support of alleged breach of their rights was rejected outright.

Be sure you understand what rights parents in your district have. Parents may turn to you as a resource for understanding their own legal recourse, or you may need to use your knowledge in order to protect your students, or yourself. The more you know about the legal in’s and out’s, the better prepared you’ll be should an issue with a parent arise.

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