Phyllis Schlafly

Federal judges have just hit parents with a triple whammy. Two appellate courts held that parents have no right to stop offensive, privacy-invading interrogation of their own children in public schools. In a third case, the U.S. Supreme Court indicated that it is not going to do anything to protect parental rights concerning schools.

It has become clear that many courts have adopted the notion that a village - in these cases, schools - should raise children. Judges prefer to side with schools and against parents.

When a New Jersey mother was horrified to learn that her daughter and classmates had been asked how many times they had tried to kill themselves, she filed suit to protect the rights of parents and pupils. She won on the first appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in C.N. v. Ridgewood Board of Education, but the school was relentless in litigation to assert its primary authority and the court finally ruled in favor of the school.

At issue was a 156-question survey called "Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors," which probed students about their personal lives and activities. The survey included questions about sex, drugs, suicide, incriminating behavior, spirituality, tolerance and other personal matters.

Questions 92-93 in this survey given to Ridgewood children asked "how many times" they "had used cocaine" in their lives, or during the last 12 months, and the answer choices were 0, 1, 2, 3-5, 6-9, 10-19, 20-39, and 40+. This gave students the false impression that casual use of cocaine is common and acceptable.

Misleading questions can have a powerful effect. Our legal system recognizes this by providing dozens of reasons for lawyers to object to questions in court in order to protect their witnesses from having to answer improper questions.

Children lack the maturity to tell the difference between questions they should or should not answer. Children are trained in school that they must answer questions or face discipline or a poor grade.

Ask an adult when he stopped beating his wife and expect to be told to get lost. Ask a child in the classroom how often he takes drugs or has sex, and the child will think he ought to answer.

But judges who routinely uphold lawyers' objections to improper questions in court think it is OK to ask offensive questions of children in school. In the Ridgewood decision, the court agreed with the parents that the students' participation in the survey might have been mandatory, and conceded that the leading questions could be suggestive to students, but nevertheless ruled that parents' and pupils' rights were not violated.

Phyllis Schlafly

Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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