FPN Proposal Requires Parental Notification and Passive Consent Before Schoolchildren Can Participate in School-Based Clubs
Student-led, non-academic clubs have long been an important part of the public school experience. From the Kiwanis-sponsored “Key Clubs,” to MADD-sponsored “Students Against Drunk Driving,” and the Christian-based “Fellowship of Christian Athletes” (FCA), scores of public school children have learned important values and engaged in meaningful community service as a result of their participation in school-based clubs.
The number and scope of school clubs has increased dramatically in recent years. Currently, clubs promoting astrology, atheism, feminism, homosexuality and even witchcraft are common in public schools, and have often alarmed parents, teachers and administrators in school districts throughout the nation.
Parents and educators have often been prevented from banning or curtailing such clubs by federal judges, who cite legislation passed by Congress in 1984. The Equal Access Act, which was originally designed to protect student-led Bible clubs, has been used by judges to defend controversial groups like so-called “Gay-Straight Alliances” (GSA’s) and “Wiccan” clubs. These judges claim schools allowing one “viewpoint” to be promoted must not deny “equal access” to those who wish to promote other points of view.
Notwithstanding federal court rulings related to the “Equal Access Act,” parents should maintain the right to determine which non-curricular activities their child may participate in since many of these clubs deal with political, religious, and moral issues. These matters are clearly non-academic, and should fall within the bounds of parental authority. Therefore, the government should protect the right of parents to determine how their children are influenced in any venue, including non-academic, school-based clubs.
School clubs are often political in nature. School-based clubs like the Young Democrats, the Young Republicans, and single-issue clubs often deal with highly controversial political issues. Parents should retain the right to decide whether or not their children attend meetings that may espouse ideas that may conflict with their family’s beliefs.
School clubs are often religious in nature. For instance, the views promoted by a “wiccan” or an “atheist” club would be contrary to those found in the Bible. As a result, many Christian parents would object to their impressionable child being encouraged to consider such teachings while on school property. Likewise, there are some parents who would object to their child attending a faith-based Bible club. When theological issues are addressed in a public school setting, parents should have the right to be know about it, and be given an opportunity to prevent their child from being encouraged to believe things that are in conflict with their family’s views and values.
School clubs are often moral in nature. Clubs dealing with matters of morality, like the so-called “Gay-Straight Alliances” are controversial because they deal with “sexual identity” issues. Young, open minds are best exploited by only one point of view, which is why homosexual activists are adamantly opposed to permitting parents to have the right to object to, or even KNOW about their children participating in these clubs. Clubs like these may also deal with issues that affect a student’s long-term health. For instance, at a typical after-school GSA meeting, schoolchildren are unlikely to hear that homosexual sex causes severe damage the extremely thin membrane of the anal wall, which contributes to skyrocketing rates of diseases like HPV, anal cancer, hepatitis, and the deadly HIV/AIDS virus in homosexual men. At the very least, parents deserve the right to know and determine if someone is trying to influence their child’s philosophy regarding unnatural sexual activities.
Working with parents, educators and legislators; Family Policy Network has drafted a legislative proposal to require school officials to inform parents of school-based clubs, and ultimately to guarantee a parent’s ability to determine whether their own child may participate. FPN’s “School Clubs” bill is comprehensive, and therefore affects all such clubs, regardless of viewpoint or subject matter as required by the Equal Access Act.
FPN’s model legislation requires school districts to give parents information about all non-academic activities in which their child may participate. Parents must be notified of the name of each available club, its mission statement and objectives, cost of participation (if any), and the Internet address of any website that is used to promote the club or organization. Additionally, schools must provide a list of any and all faculty or other adult sponsors involved with each club, a list of any local, regional, state or national organizations with which the club is affiliated and/or associated, a brief description of past (if any) and planned activities (including those not on school grounds), and a brief explanation of the source of any pamphlets, books or related materials that are distributed by the club.
The method by which school districts notify parents of information related to school-based clubs should be the same used to provide other types of information already communicated to all parents at the beginning of each school year, such as general school policies, emergency information, disciplinary procedures, etc. While the method may differ from locality to locality, it will avoid the added burden of creating a new method within each school district. This is neither and unloving nor intolerant policy. Parental notification merely ensures that parents are given a chance to know and respond to information their children receive about theological, philosophical, and political issues.
Most of the issues discussed in these clubs are not academic issues. In other words, they are not essential to a student’s future career. Therefore, FPN’s model legislation gives parents the authority to preclude their children from participating in any school clubs they view as unnecessary or contrary to their own beliefs.
NOTE: Some state legislatures have considered school-based club proposals that attempt to require parents to opt their children in to club activities by first signing a mandatory “permission slip.” FPN generally does not support such “opt-in” proposals because they create an undue burden for popular and wholesome clubs like the Key Club or FCA. In order to hold controversial clubs that may never have more than 20 or 30 participants accountable, the opt-in legislation has the potential to harm the ability for wholesome clubs like FCA or Key Club to reach hundreds of students. Therefore, FPN supports “opt-out” language, which retains full parental authority through a passive permission situation, without harming the ability of wholesome clubs to recruit new members.
Parents have always had a fundamental right to influence their own children’s beliefs and attitudes about religion, philosophy, and politics. This right should not end at the schoolhouse door. The adoption of FPN’s school-based clubs legislation would honor the primary role of parents in guiding and shaping their child’s worldview and value system. It would ensure parents are given the right to know and respond to information their children are being exposed to as a result of participating in non-academic, school-based clubs.
USA TODAY: FPN Fighting for Parents’ Rights in Five States
EDUCATION WEEK: FPN Pushes Laws to Initiate Parental Involvement in School Clubs
RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH EDITORIAL: FPN’s Parents’ Rights is “˜Homophobic’
AFA JOURNAL: FPN Finds Way to Combat “Gay-Straight Alliances” in Public Schools
AGAPE PRESS: FPN Launches Campaign to Limit “Gay-Straight Alliances” in Schools
Prepared by FPN Policy Analyst Alexander Mason.