In KP-406 Attorney General Ken Paxton advises that school officials may not withhold medical or health information from a child’s parents. That’s not news, and General Paxton did not have to cite Supreme Court cases from almost 100 years ago to make the point. The Texas Education Code is clear and strong with regard to the right of parents to receive information and be informed of what is going on at school. In fact, educators are subject to disciplinary action if they so much as “encourage” a child to withhold information from the child’s parents.” T.E.C. 26.008(b). Our state policy is clear. We want parents to be treated as partners in the educational process.
The opinion emphasizes the constitutional right that parents have to direct the upbringing of their child. There is such a right, but it is not as broad as General Paxton implies in this opinion. Parents have the constitutional right to choose a private school (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925). Parents have the right to hire a teacher to teach their child German (Meyer v. Nebraska, 1923).
The Meyer case is particularly interesting in today’s political climate. Shortly after World War I the State of Nebraska passed a law making it a crime to teach a child in a modern language other than English until the child had completed 8th grade. Instruction in Latin, Greek and Hebrew was permitted, but until you got to high school you could not be taught in a language that people actually use, other than English. Thus high school kids could study French, German and Spanish, but no instruction in these languages was permitted prior to that.
Mr. Meyer was convicted of teaching a ten year old to read German in Zion Parochial School. He appealed the conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court held that the Nebraska statute unreasonably infringed on the liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. The Court held that Mr. Meyer’s right “to teach and the right of parents to engage him so to instruct their children” were “within the liberty of the [14th] Amendment.”
It’s a short opinion and it focuses more on Mr. Meyer’s right to make a living than the right of the parents to make educational decisions. But the one line that is repeatedly cited is this one:
Evidently the legislature has attempted materially to interfere with the calling of modern language teachers, with the opportunities of pupils to acquire knowledge, and with the power of parents to control the education of their own. (Emphasis added).
Notice: the state was using its power to prevent children from learning. The Supreme Court held that the no-German law infringed on parent’s rights. If the parents want the child to learn German, the state should not stand in the way.
Today things are different. Today we have parents who do not want their children to learn something that the school offers to teach. And they brandish their “fundamental constitutional right” to justify this.
What KP-406 fails to mention is how limited that parental right is. There are numerous cases holding that the right of parents to direct the education of their children does not empower parents to opt out of school curriculum requirements. The right of parents to direct their child’s education is pretty much limited to choosing what kind of school the child will attend: public, charter, private, religious, home. It does not authorize parents to control classroom discussions, the selection of books in the library, or the requirements of the curriculum.
DAWG BONE: STUDY T.E.C. CHAPTER 26. THAT’S THE BEST SUMMARY WE HAVE OF PARENTAL RIGHTS.
Got a question or comment for the Dawg? Let me hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomorrow: 504 regs up for review…