Parent Rights v. Student Privacy: The Second Golden Oldie

This week we are reviewing a clash of legal interests that puts school officials squarely in the middle. The parent wants to know about something that the student wants to keep private. What to do?

Monday we told you about Meyer v. Nebraska, a 1923 SCOTUS case that was the first to recognize a parent’s constitutional right to make educational decisions.  The second Golden Oldie involved an initiative passed by the voters of Oregon that was as anti-school choice as you can imagine.  The law required that all children in the state must attend public school.  This would never see the light of day today, but in 1922, the people of Oregon believed that putting all kids in public school would promote American values.  There were concerns at the time about unchecked immigration.  Lots of people with unfamiliar languages and strange customs were coming to America. So the idea was to put them all together in the public school where they would become good Americans.  The law provided an exception for the kids who were “not normal.” That’s a turn of phrase we would not see today.

Three years later the state law was shot down by the Supreme Court. The suit was filed by two organizations that ran private schools—The Society of Sisters and the Hill Military Academy.  The law had not yet gone into effect, but the plaintiffs alleged that “enforcement of the statute would seriously impair, perhaps destroy, the profitable features of [the private school’s] business and greatly diminish the value of their property.”

The Supreme Court cited its earlier decision in Meyer v. Nebraska, but this time put more emphasis on the rights of parents:

Under the doctrine of Meyer v. Nebraska, we think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control:

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public school teachers only.  The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

This case, along with Meyer v. Nebraska, established that parents have rights, protected by the Constitution, regarding the education of their children.  Just how far those rights extend would be the subject of other cases that came up much later.  Later still we began to see cases where the rights of the parent and the rights of the student were not completely aligned.  We will take a look at those cases tomorrow and Friday.

Today’s case is Pierce v. Society of Sisters, decided by the Supreme Court in 1925. We found it at 268 U.S. 510.


Tomorrow: Tune in for a discussion of Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc.  Sound interesting?