“There is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children, either independent of their right to direct the upbringing and education of their children or encompassed by it. We also hold that parents have no due process or privacy right to override the determinations of public schools as to the information to which their children will be exposed while enrolled as students.” ~ Fields v. Palmdale School District PSD, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (2005)
Do parents have a right to control the upbringing of their children, especially when it comes to what their children should be exposed to in terms of sexual practices and intimate relationships?
That question goes to the heart of the battle being played out in school districts and courts across America right now over parental rights and whether parents essentially forfeit those rights when they send their children to a public school. On one side of the debate are those who believe, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, that “the child is not the mere creature of the state” and that the right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children is a fundamental liberty interest protected by the U.S. Constitution. On the other side are government officials who not only believe, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Fields v. Palmdale School District PSD (2005), that “[s]chools cannot be expected to accommodate the personal, moral or religious concerns of every parent,” but go so far as to insist that parents’ rights do “not extend beyond the threshold of the school door.”
A recent incident in Fitchburg, Massachusetts clearly illustrates this growing tension over whether young people, especially those in the public schools, are essentially wards of the state, to do with as government officials deem appropriate, in defiance of the children’s constitutional rights and those of their parents. On two separate occasions this year, students at Memorial Middle School (MMS) in Fitchburg were administered surveys at school asking overtly intimate and sexually suggestive questions without their parents’ knowledge or consent.