On The Front Lines
Rutherford Institute Defends Parents' Right to Challenge Intrusive Sex, Drugs, Crime Student SurveyRutherford Institute Attorneys Successfully Appeal Parents' Rights Case as Third Circuit Court of Appeals Reinstates Lawsuit
RIDGEWOOD, N.J. --In response to an appeal by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a New Jersey federal court judge's dismissal of a lawsuit against the Ridgewood Board of Education. Brought on by concerned parents of students in the Ridgewood, N.J. school system, the suit challenged a highly intrusive survey administered to students without parental notification or consent. In dismissing the case in February 2001, Judge Nicholas Politan ruled that the plaintiffs, parents and children could not prevail against the Ridgewood Board of Education under either the federal Protection of Parental Rights Act or the constitutional rights to privacy and free speech because the survey was administered on a "voluntary" basis. In overturning that decision, the Appeals Court called the District Court judge's decision "premature" and cited evidence to suggest that students and parents did not know the survey was voluntary. In addition, the Appeals Court cited a "lack of factual development" in determining whether or not the survey was federally funded and therefore subject to review under the Protection of Parental Rights Act.
The survey, titled "Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behavior," was developed by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute and asked 156 questions on a variety of issues, including use of alcohol and illegal drugs, any mental and demeaning behavior and students' family relationships. Among the questions posed to the approximately 2,000 seventh- through twelfth-grade students in the Ridgewood School District in the fall of 1999 were, "Have you ever tried to kill yourself?" "Do you use heroin, morphine or opium?" and "When you have sex, how often do you use a birth control method?"
The parents involved in this lawsuit charge that the content of the survey and the way in which it was administered deprived the students and their families of their rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Family Education Records Privacy Act and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment. Perhaps the most egregious of the charges is that the parents were not sent consent forms to be signed before their children took the survey, nor were they told of how the survey was to be administered or that the survey was voluntary. School officials led the students to believe that they were required to take the survey and answer every question.
"The appeals court properly recognized that the Ridgewood parents have a right to present this important case," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "The court's decision will grant these parents their rightful day in court and a chance to show how government authorities unlawfully interrogated their children about sexual and criminal conduct."
The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.
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