Parents have just won a
tremendous legal victory over the widespread public school practice
of forcing students to answer nosy, privacy-invading questions about
themselves and their families. The U.S. District Court in San
Antonio, Texas, has signed the final order of judgment in a class
action case against the San Antonio Independent School District
(SAISD) brought by parents, who were represented by the Texas
Justice Foundation (www.txjf.org).
The wide-reaching order is of landmark and nationwide importance.
For many years, parents have objected to the way that schools force
students to respond to nonacademic questionnaires intruding on pupil
and family privacy and involving matters that are none of the
Parents also object to the way that the so-called therapeutic
classroom is crowding out academics and basic skills. Schoolchildren
are routinely subjected, not only to intrusive, depressing surveys,
but also to psychological and attitudinal exams and guidance
counseling, usually without parental knowledge or consent.
The case called Lisa T. v. SAISD began when 10-year-old
Melissa's mother voiced her objections to the Hillcrest Elementary
School about sex education, death and suicide education, and the
lack of academic instruction. Lisa T.'s daughter tested three years
below grade level and her son tested four years below grade level as
a result of being taught about UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, how to
embalm, etc., instead of spelling and math.
Complaints to the superintendent and the school board got Lisa T.
nothing but harassment of Melissa, who was subjected to
interrogations about "what her mother was up to." The SAISD then
administered intrusive, psychological surveys to students at
Jefferson High School, delving into the feelings and emotions and
invading their personal privacy and family relationships.
Teachers assured students that their survey responses would
remain confidential even from parents. Concurrently, the school
conducted daily classes that gave comprehensive group guidance
counseling, without parental preview or consent, and without
respecting the conscience or convictions of the parents or students.
Here are samples from the nosy questionnaires. "What do you
consider to be the best thing about your home and the worst? How do
you get along at home? If you could change one thing about your
family, what would it be and why?"
More depressing questions from the SAISD's surveys included:
"What's the thing you need most that you are not getting from your
family? Has anybody close to you died in the last year or so? Do you
ever wish you were a boy or a girl instead of what you are? What
things do you worry about?"
Another question reveals the dramatic curriculum changes that
have taken place in the public schools: "Select the group counseling
sessions you would like to participate in: Managing Anger;
Parent/Teen Conflict; Coping with Stress; Interpersonal
Relationship; Grief/Loss; Study Skills; Other."
The court's order in the Lisa T. case requires the school
district henceforth to obtain parental consent for all guidance
counseling, psychological exams, and intrusive surveys. The consent
forms must notify parents if the surveys include controversial
topics such as political affiliations, sexual behavior and
attitudes, or requests for privileged information, including
potentially embarrassing mental and psychological problems.
SAISD shredded all its objectionable intrusive surveys in the
presence of parent representatives. Parents were notified that they
could review their own children's questionnaires prior to the
SAISD will establish a new district-wide committee of parents and
school staff to review possibly-intrusive surveys prior to
submitting them for approval or rejection by the school board and
before asking for parental consent. The district will give employees
in-service training on state and federal parental rights and
instruct them that they may not retaliate, intimidate, interrogate,
or harass students or parents who are exercising their rights.
This Texas case is the latest chapter in a long-running battle
against nosy surveys about sex, drugs, death, attitudes, and family
matters, and against psychological tests and courses, that first
received national attention with the passage of the Protection of
Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) by Congress in 1978. The public school
establishment, led by the National Education Association, had a
collective tantrum when the Reagan Administration issued regulations
Seven days of hearings held by the Department of Education in
1984 put hundreds of cases of psychological abuse in the classroom
on the record, but the public school establishment continued to
bitterly oppose enforcement of PPRA.
Despite a strengthening of the law's language by Senator Chuck
Grassley's amendment in 1994, despite pledges of enforcement in the
Contract With America, and despite notorious violations such as the
149-question federally-financed survey given to Minnesota children
in 1989, PPRA has never been enforced until now. This issue is more
important in 1999 than ever before because technology now allows the
data collected on nosy surveys to be entered in student computer
portfolios that can be used against the student all his life.
The Lisa T. case marks a real turning point in the battle
for parents' rights. It provides a model for what parents and their
lawyers can accomplish elsewhere.