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Back to June Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 161 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JUNE 1999

Parents Stop Nosy School Questionnaires!
Texas Justice Foundation wins landmark case for parents' rights

Thomas W. Stack
Thomas W. Stack,
Texas Justice Foundation
SAN ANTONIO, TX - In a major victory for the right of parents to shield their children from nosy school questionnaires and psychological examinations, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery signed the Final Order of Judgment on May 3 in the federal case called Lisa T. et al.v. San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) et al. Since the court certified the litigation as a class action to include all parents in the district, the order protects the rights of all SAISD parents.

The wide-reaching agreement is of landmark importance. It was reached as a result of voluntary (not court-ordered) mediation between the parents, represented by the Texas Justice Foundation (TJF), a non-profit, public interest litigation foundation, and the SAISD. It clearly sets forth the right of parents to determine whether their children may participate in psychological surveys and counseling sessions, and it sets an important precedent for other school districts to follow.

"We are hopeful that districts across the state will take a look at what happened in this case and voluntarily implement the same or similar measures to safeguard parental rights," says TJF attorney Tom Stack, who represented the plaintiffs.

The TJF has compiled a Notice and Declaration of Parental Rights (reprinted on pages 2-4 and on the TJF's web site www.txjf.org), which parents are encouraged to submit to their children's schools.

The Declaration was not part of the lawsuit and has no special legal standing, but it was compiled from federal and Texas laws, many of which were cited in this case. It is designed to "assist parents in recognizing and exercising their fundamental rights and duties under state and federal law," but does not constitute legal advice or representation.

How This Case Began

The case began when a concerned parent, Lisa T., informed the TJF that her 10-year-old daughter had been given psychological examinations against her wishes since 1995, while attending Hillcrest Elementary School in the SAISD as a 3rd, 4th and 5th grader. Mrs. T. voiced her objections to school district personnel about a variety of issues concerning her children, including sex education, death and suicide education, and the lack of academic instruction.

She told the Internet news service WorldNetDaily that her daughter "learned about UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, medieval times, Egyptian culture and how to embalm," but not spelling or math. She said her daughter later tested three years below grade level and her son tested four years below grade level.

Rather than address the mother's concerns, the school retaliated by harassing and intimidating her daughter. The child was subjected to interrogations about "what her mother was up to," and she was repeatedly required to answer personal questions.

According to the TJF, such retaliation "places a chilling effect on the exercise of parental rights, free speech, the freedom of religion, and all constitutionally protected rights, including equal protection."

Mrs. T. then lodged a complaint with the SAISD's board of trustees, but the board decided not to take any action.

Nosy Surveys

A week after the board's decision, intrusive, psychological surveys, including "Getting to Know You," were given to more than 600 students at Thomas Jeffer-son High School. TJF President Allan Parker described them as "intrusively delving into the feelings and emotions of these minor students, invading their personal privacy and the privacy of their family relationships with their siblings and parents."

The surveys were given in "Academic Coaching" classes which, according to Parker, were "at the heart of SAISD superintendent Diana Lam's restructuring reforms." The classes included comprehensive guidance counseling on a daily basis. Attorney Stack told the court that the counseling was "nothing less than mandatory participation in group counseling without parental preview or consent, that does not respect the conscience, religious beliefs and convictions of the parents [plaintiffs] or their minor children."

The teachers assured students that their "Getting to Know You" and other survey responses would remain confidential "even from parents." Students were instructed to complete the surveys during class time, and some were asked to provide their names and telephone numbers. Survey questions included: 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? What's the thing you need most that you are not getting from your family?

After the questionnaires came to light, Allan Parker publicly called on the board of trustees of SAISD to "either repudiate these questions and protect students' privacy, or call a press conference and tell everyone in San Antonio what is the worst thing about their [the board members'] homes, what they are not getting from their families, and what they would change about their families if they could. He announced that the TJF would be sending copies of this questionnaire to the principal of Thomas Jefferson High and to superintendent Lam.

Attorney Stack called many of the survey questions "downright ridiculous." He added: "Parents have the primary responsibility for their child's education, and the state has the primary responsibility to support that parental role and right."

"Educators need to realize that they are not the captains of the ship, parents are," Stack continued. "We hope this litigation and final court order mean the dawning of a new age for parents in the SAISD, the State of Texas, and perhaps throughout the country."


 
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