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Service Sanctioned

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A New York state school district's mandatory community-service requirement violates neither the privacy rights of students nor the rights of parents to direct their children's upbringing, a federal appeals court ruled earlier this year.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit also ruled 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 one by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which the Supreme Court let stand in 1993.

But according to legal observers, this latest ruling is the broadest legal victory yet for mandatory community-service programs in schools.

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. 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, first by a federal district court and then by the appellate court. The latter 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 because if students do not wish to disclose their political or religious beliefs, they may volunteer with secular, nonpartisan organizations.

Scott Bullock, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization that represents the Immediatos, says the family is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

--Mark Walsh

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