Sex Education curriculum has remained a topic of fierce debate in American public schools over the past several decades. Especially controversial, initiatives where schools distribute condoms to students without the consent of the parents. The schools believe they are providing a public service through dispensing prophylactics to students who may not access to such precautions otherwise. Parents with more of a conservative disposition feel that through providing contraceptives to their children the schools are attempting to undermine the values of the student’s household. Any impartial observer free of any ideological inclinations would see sound logic in either premise. School administrators have good intentions. The concerned parents have sound moral concerns. Despite whether their concerns are originating from religious convictions or pragmatic qualms about encouraging sexual activities among teenagers.
How does American law view the issue of distributing condoms in public schools? It would be reasonable to assume that schools funded with tax dollars should not be overtly promoting partisan values. Through providing condoms to students school officials could be implicitly be condoning pre-marital sex. Which may conflict with the religious beliefs some the parents wish to instill in their children. This dynamic of sex education in public schools presents an important question, where do the rights of the parents come in? These parents who take offense to such programs are effectively having their tax dollars utilized to fund initiatives that they find to be immoral. Their children can participate without any notification to the parents or the written expression of consent. That’s truly where the issue becomes problematic. Unfortunately, the law does not see eye to eye with the concerns of socially conservative parents.
One case that examined whether distributing condoms to students without prior parental consent was unconstitutional was Curtis V. School Committee of Falmouth (1995). In this scenario, a school nurse dispensed condoms to every student in school grades seven through twelve. Then a group of concerned parents challenged this action on the part of the school stating that they have the right to be notified. Also, asserting that parental consent should also be obtained before the school providing condoms to students (P. 431). The court countered this claim by suggesting that state action only violates “parental liberty” only when it is “coercive or compulsory”. That distributing condoms in such a fashion was neither due to students not being required to accept them. Therefore, it does not circumvent the authority of the parent. The ligating party found this premise to be false, arguing that this action was coercive and compulsory. Due to this fact, these contraceptives were being provided in public schools that have compulsory attendance requirements (P.431).
The Massachusetts Justices found little validity in these repudiations and ruled against the parents. The Justices acknowledging that providing condoms to students was a non-medical service. However, they found that there was no Constitutional precedence for requiring parental consent or an option to opt-out. Also, did not find this compulsory in any context. Proceeded to then state that parents do not have the right to “tailor public school education” (P.432).
Whether you are personally in favor of sex education or not it is difficult to not be troubled by this verdict on the part of the Massachusetts Justices. This court decision gives deference to the authority of the public school system over that of the digression of parents. It is difficult to justify such an overreach. This is a prime example of the structural apparatus of the law bulldozering over the rights of the parent. Especially when it would have required little in the way of time and resources for the school to issue permission slips. It perplexing how your child needs a permission slip to go to a museum, but not to receive a condom. Shouldn’t the school have the permission of the parents in either situation? Schools intend to educate children. Sex education is in of itself is one thing. However, distributing condoms takes on another tone. Through directly providing condoms to students without parental consent the school has gone too far. The parent does have the right to object or want to shelter their child from such realities. This may not be the most prudent or realistic approach, however, that is irrelevant. Unless a parent is abusing or neglecting their child, they have a right to raise their child as they see fit. Public schools being appendages of the government do not have the right to interfere with the child-rearing process. This topic provides greater insight into why parents are turning to the unschooling movement in droves (even before the pandemic).