Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Parental Rights Regarding Education of Children

Many parents are unaware of their legal rights in determining the education of their children. Many give too much deference, in my opinion, to the "education establishment."  Please don't misunderstand me. I am not disparaging teachers. What I am saying is that a parent's right to determine the content, character and moral principles of their child's education trumps the interest of the school and/or the state.

The institution of public education is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of the United States. For much of our history, parental rights regarding the amount, type, scope and content of their children's education were unquestioned (largely because it was the parents who provided or contracted for such education). It was not until 1925 that the United States Supreme Court made a definitive pronouncement on this issue. In a case called Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated an Oregon compulsory education law which would have required all parents to send their children to public schools. In a unanimous decision, the Court said the following: "The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excluded any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right and the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations." In other words, a state may require that children receive a certain amount of education in terms of years, etc. But, the manner in which that education is to be received, whether in public school, private school or home school, is to be determined by the parents.

The principle from this case (Pierce v. Society of Sisters) has been cited countless times as the basic principle of parental rights in education. If you understand this principle, then you understand that the ultimate authority regarding the content of a child's education is the parent. If the public school to which you send your children is not meeting your standards in terms of quality or content, then you as the parent have the right to send your child to private school or remove them from the school system completely and home school them. (In the past, homeschooling may have presented parents with seemingly insurmountable issues, but with the advent of internet schools, homeschooling is accessable to many more parents.)

Even within the public school system, parents can have a great deal of input in terms of content and quality of education. Every parent (indeed every citizen) in Illinois has the right to review all of the books and other materials that are part of the public school curriculum. All you have to do is go into one of the schools and request to review the materials. Frankly, every parent should do this on a regular basis. You have every right to know what is in the textbooks and other materials that are being used to instruct your children. Additionally, you have the right to be heard regarding your concerns, if any, about these materials. You can discuss these concerns with the teacher, the principals, the superintendent and the school board (you can go directly to the school board by showing up at a meeting and being heard during the public comment section of the meeting).

In addition to the above, Federal law protects the rights of parents regarding information kept by schools regarding their children. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects the rights of parents to access and inspect student information collected and kept by schools. It also prevents disclosure of this information except for certain specified purposes.

In the end, they are your children, and the right to determine the content of their education belongs to you as parents.

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