For background, a public school sent out a poorly worded slip asking parents to allow the school to let a graduate student privately ask questions to students that may require “psychological help” to recover from. Particlarly, the flier read
Dear Parent or Caregiver:
The Palmdale School District is asking your support in participating in a district-wide study of our first, third and fifth grade children. The study will be a part of a collaborative effort with The California School of Professional Psychology â€” CSPP/ Alliant International University, Childrenâ€™s Bureau of Southern California and the Palmdale School District. The goal of this assessment is to establish a community baseline measure of childrenâ€™s exposure to early trauma (for example, violence). We will identify internal behaviors such as anxiety and depression and external behaviors such as aggression and verbal abuse. As a result, we will be designing a district wide intervention program to help children reduce these barriers to learning, which students can participate in. Please read this consent letter and if you agree, please sign and send it back to your schoolâ€™s principal no later than December 20, 2001. The assessment will consist of three, twenty-minute self-report measures, which will be given to your child on one day during the last week of January. This study is 100% confidential and at no time will the information gathered be used to identify your child. Your child will not be photographed or videotaped. You may refuse to have your child participate or withdraw from this study at any time without any penalty or loss of servicesto which your child is entitled.
I am aware that the research study coordinator, Kristi Seymour, one research assistant, the Palmdale School District, Director of Psychology, Michael Geisser, and a professor from CSPP, will be the only people who have access to the studyâ€™s information. After the study is completed, all information will be locked in storage and then destroyed after a period of five years.
I understand answering questions may make my child feel uncomfortable. If this occurs, then, Kristi Seymour, the research study coordinator, will assist us in locating a therapist for further psychological help if necessary. If I have further questions, I may contact Kristi Seymour at 1529 E. Palmdale Blvd., Suite 210, Palmdale, CA 93550 at 661.272.9997 x128. I understand that I will not be able to get my childâ€™s individual results due to anonymity of the children, but I may get a summary report of the study results.
I have read this form and understand what it says. I her[e]by agree to allow my child to participate in this district-wide study.â€ (emphasis in original). Additionally, two lines were made available on the â€œParental Consentâ€ form for the â€œParent/Caregiverâ€ to sign and date it.
Some parents who approved were rather surprised when their young children were asked to rate questions such as:
8. Touching my private parts too much
17. Thinking about having sex
22. Thinking about touching other peopleâ€™s private
23. Thinking about sex when I donâ€™t want to
26. Washing myself because I feel dirty on the inside
34. Not trusting people because they might want
40. Getting scared or upset when I think about sex
44. Having sex feelings in my body
47. Canâ€™t stop thinking about sex
54. Getting upset when people talk about sex
Several parents were upset at the deception, and sued. The parents claimed the school’s actions violated their “basic Constitutional right” â€œto control the upbringing of their children by introducing them to matters of and relating to sex.â€ This is the case of Fields v. Palmdale.
First, the Court appropriately states that it should not make law, only apply law to existing cases
We note at the outset that it is not our role to rule on the wisdom of the School Districtâ€™s actions. That is a matter that must be decided in other fora. The question before us is simply whether the parents have a constitutional right to exclusive control over the introduction and flow of sexual information to their children.
Then, the Court notes that the State has a long constitutional history of running schools
In Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944), the Court recognized that parentsâ€™ liberty interest in the custody, care, and nurture of their children resides â€œfirstâ€ in the parents, but does not reside there exclusively, nor is it â€œbeyond regulation [by the state] in the public interest.â€ Id. at 166. For example, the state â€œas parens patriaeâ€ may restrict parentsâ€™ interest in the custody, care, and nurture of their children â€œby requiring school attendance, regulating or prohibiting the childâ€™s labor and in many other ways.â€
Many other findings are similarly concise. It appears that the Court is crafting a restrained opinion which narrowly strikes down the lawsuit. Even the second-to-last paragraph is fine:
Although we reach our conclusions with little difficulty and firmly endorse the School Districtâ€™s authority to conduct survey for the purposes involved here, we reiterate that we express no view on the wisdom of posing some of the particular questions asked or of conducting an inquiry into some of the particular areas surveyed by the School District. That determination is properly left to the school authorities.
But this is the Ninth Circuit, a highly political, highly activist branch of the federal judiciary.
All valid criticism of the decision comes from the last paragraph:
In summary, we hold that there is no free-standing fundamental right of parents â€œto control the upbringing of their children by introducing them to matters of and relating to sex in accordance with their personal and religious values and beliefsâ€ and that the asserted right is not encompassed by any other fundamental right. In doing so, we do not quarrel with the parentsâ€™ right to inform and advise their children about the subject of sex as they see fit. We conclude only that the parents are possessed of no constitutional right to prevent the public schools from providing information on that subject to their students in any forum or manner they select. We further hold that a psychological survey is a reasonable state action pursuant to legitimate educational as well as health and welfare interests of the state. Accordingly, the parent-appellants have failed to state a federal claim upon which relief may be granted. The decision of the district court is affirmed.
The Court’s decision is dishonest. The bulk of the material is narrow, laying the groundwork for a finding against the parents. But then the Court creates law, saying the State has total rights to introduce sexual information in any way regardless of the faith or religion of the child or parent.