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Court Holds Service Rule Does Not Violate Rights

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A New York state district's mandatory community-service requirement does not violate the privacy rights of students or the rights of parents to direct their children's upbringing, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit also ruled unanimously that the Rye Neck district's service program does not violate the 13th Amendment's prohibition against involuntary servitude.

The ruling on that issue matched an earlier ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed to stand in 1993. (See Education Week, Oct. 13, 1993.)

The Jan. 2 ruling in Immediato v. Rye Neck School District was the broadest legal victory yet for mandatory community-service programs in schools.

Lawsuit Challenged 'Edict'

The Rye Neck district, in Mamaroneck, N.Y., began its community-service requirement in 1990. Students must perform 40 hours of service over four years, and they can choose from a host of nonprofit groups.

Daniel Immediato, a student at Rye Neck High School, and his parents challenged the requirement as an infringement of the 13th Amendment's slavery prohibition and their 14th Amendment rights of privacy and parental control under the U.S. Constitution.

The family argued that community service is a worthy goal but that participation must stem from individual conscience, not a "government edict."

Their arguments were rejected by a federal district court as well as the 2nd Circuit appellate court.

The court held that the program does not violate parental rights because it is rationally related to the district's education mission.

The court also held that the program does not violate students' privacy rights. If students do not wish to disclose their political or religious beliefs, they may volunteer with secular, nonpartisan organizations, the panel said.

Scott Bullock, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based advocacy organization that represents the Immediato family, said the full 2nd Circuit court would be asked to reconsider the ruling. If the court declines, the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court, he said.

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