Bills Patterned After Federal Hatch Act Pressed in States To Spur 'Discussion'
In at least eight states, lawmakers have introduced legislation in recent months that would prohibit public schools from involving students in certain state-sponsored programs of research or psychological testing without parental consent.
Three of those bills have been defeated, another was vetoed by the governor, and the sponsors of others acknowledge that their bills are unlikely to be approved. But supporters point to their introduction this session as "a testing of the waters" in preparation for passage in subsequent legislative sessions.
Said Richard F. Davis, sponsor of a pupil-protection bill in Delaware: "If we can't get it through this year, it will still be around next year."
The bills still pending in Delaware, North Carolina, and South Carolina are state-level versions of the controversial fed-eral Hatch Amendment, which prohibits schools from requiring students to submit without parental consent to federally funded "psychiatric or psychological experimentation, testing, or treatment." U.S. Education Department regulations, which went into effect last fall, further defined certain portions of the amendment.
A pending bill in California seeks even more specific language defining those areas in which schools would be prohibited from questioning students without parental permission.
Most of the state bills are worded similarly. They state that school officials must allow parents to inspect the instructional materials--teachers' manuals, films, tapes, or other materials--to be used in any state-funded program of research or experimentation.
In many cases, the bills' language is broader than that of the federal law, defining "research or experimentation" as any program or project in the public schools that is designed to "explore or develop new or unproven teaching methods or techniques."
The bills also stipulate that no student may be required to submit without prior consent to psychiatric or psychological examination, testing, or treatment in which the primary purpose is to reveal certain kinds of personal information.
Among the subject areas specifically barred are: political affiliations; religious beliefs and practices; mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student or his or her family; sex behavior and attitudes; illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, and demeaning behavior; critical appraisals of other individuals with whom the student has close family relationships; privileged relationships, such as those with lawyers, physicians, and ministers; and income, other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance.
Unlike the federal regulations, however, the state-level legislation does not call for financial penalties, such as the withholding of state funds, for districts that do not comply. Instead, supporters say, the measures are intended to place the restrictions into the state code to allow complainants to turn to the courts.
Eagle Forum Support
Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum, a group that has promoted state efforts to pass pupil-protection legislation, predicted last week that such activities will expand. "The schools," she said in an interview, "are trying to do a cop-out and say that nothing has federal funding except the cafeteria." For that reason, she said, "it is essential for the legislatures to pass a pupil-rights amendment in every state."
To encourage sponsorship of such legislation, Ms. Schlafly circulated copies of the Education Department regulations in the March issue of her "Parents Advisory Center News," a newsletter circulated to 70,000 members of the Eagle Forum.
"I just put out a copy of the Education Department regulations and said it would be great to have this law in all states," she said.
Eagle Forum chapters in some states are circulating draft legislation in an attempt to find sponsors for state-level pupil-rights bills, local chapter members say.
State Efforts Assailed
The moves to enact state versions of the federal pupil-rights measure have been sharply assailed by a number of groups, including the civil-liberties advocacy group People for the American Way.
In an advisory to its supporters, the group writes: "Schools and school districts already have procedures in place to safeguard the rights of parents and pupils. This legislation, particularly because of its vague definition of what constitutes a 'psychological test,' would give the Radical Right a new state law with which to challenge the3school curricula and activities which do not conform to their fundamentalist beliefs."
As of late last week, lawmakers in four states were set to consider pupil-protection legislation.
California. The state has had a law in effect since 1977 that prohibits schools from offering a test, questionnaire, survey, or examination that contains any questions about pupils' or their families' personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion, without receiving written parental permission.
The state chapter of the Eagle Forum has championed legislation introduced in the state Assembly that would add to Section 60650 of the California Education Code the term "political" to the list of a students' or family's personal beliefs or practices, according to Jo Ellen Allen, state chairman of the Eagle Forum.
The bill, AB 406, is sponsored by Assemblyman Doris Allen.
"We're just tryng to put some teeth into the education code," according to Ms. Allen, who said the bill comes on the heels of the approval by several California districts of nuclear-issues curricula that focus more on nuclear-freeze issues than on military strength as an effective way to achieve peace.
The bill also calls for parents to be notified in writing at the start of every school year as to their rights under the state's education code, Ms. Allen said.
Ms. Allen said the Eagle Forum promoted the introduction of the bill to open discussion on the issues it raises. "We've introduced the bill literally to get comment from parents, from educators, from others,'' she said. "We want a bill that will be satisfactory, that won't infringe on teachers' rights either." The group, she said, will begin actively lobbying for the measure during the 1986 session.
Delaware. The "Protection of Students Privacy in Examination, Testing, or Treatment" bill, HB 102, was introduced on March 21. Sponsored by Representative Richard F. Davis, the bill would amend a section of the Delaware Code that relates to parent and pupil rights, using language similar to that of bills pending in North and South Carolina.
"I was concerned that we might see experimental programs moving from federal funds over to being funded by state funds in order to avoid coming under the Hatch Amendment," Mr. Davis said. "I was trying to assure the same kinds of coverage under programs coming under our state funds."
North Carolina. "Parents Learn of Student Research," HB 117, is currently before the House Education Committee. Sponsored by Representative Frank Rhodes, the bill is designed to ensure students' privacy in examinations, testing, or treatment and uses language similar to bills pending in Delaware and South Carolina.
"Most of the impetus for the bill is a general feeling that parents and people in the legislature are getting that the schools are really overstepping their bounds in what they are doing in the classroom," said Representative Austin Allran, a co-sponsor of the bill.
"It is necessary at this particular time because the people who agree with it feel that the schools have gotten away from teaching the basics, the old, main function of just dis6seminating factual information, and they have gotten into an area of guinea-piggism, where the main function of a school is socialization, assimilation, and values clarification," Representative Allran said.
South Carolina. HB 2686, sponsored by Representative Benjamin Thrailkill, seeks to amend a 1976 state code to "conform this state's education laws to the purposes and objectives of the federal statute entitled 'Protection of Pupil Rights'. ...
"I have some constituents who are concerned about pupil rights," said Representative Thrailkill. "I'm sponsoring it for them primarily.''
"I believe there's a federal law that's presently in effect that says essentially what my bill says," Mr. Thrailkill said in reference to the Hatch Amendment. "Our [bill] puts the legality into effect in South Carolina."
"For this session, the chances of it surviving are not too good," Representative Thrailkill said, mainly because there are only three more weeks before the legislature recesses until January 1986. But he said he plans to reintroduce the bill next year if it is not approved.
Arizona's Gov. Bruce E. Babbitt recently vetoed a pupil-protection measure, and three similar bills have been defeated in legislatures this season.
Florida. After "hearty and robust debate," House Education Committee lawmakers narrowly defeated a bill last month that would have required instructional materials used in conjunction with research or experimentation programs to be made available for parental inspection, according to a staff aide for the committee.
The legislation was introduced by Representative Thomas Tobiason at the request of a group called Women for Responsible Legislation, which the staff aide said supported Eagle Forum actions. "He did it for a constituent rather than having a really strong commitment in this area, although he is really concerned about parental rights," according to the staff aide.
Illinois. HB 987, proposed pupil-rights legislation similar to those pending and defeated in other states, was defeated in April in the House Education Committee. The bill was sponsored by Representative Richard Mulcahey, chairman of the House Elementary-Secondary Education Committee and chairman of the local Eagle Forum chapter in Durand, according to Carol Lampart, a legislative aide.
North Dakota. Lawmakers defeated SB 2492 in March. The bill, introduced in January by Senator Pete Maaden, was referred to the Senate Education Committee in February, which gave it a "no-pass" vote, and defeated by a vote of 37 to 15 on the Senate floor on Feb. 14, according to Merrill Peterson, a legislative spokesman. The bill has since been referred to a study committee.
Senator Maaden attributed the bill's defeat to "pressures from superintendents." The day the bill came up for a vote on the Senate floor, he said, "the floor was inundated with superintendents from every legislative district in the state. They stood on the floor with Senate members and intimidated some of the senators who had earlier supported the bill."
Also contributing to the bill's de-mise was the fact that there was not much knowledge on the whole issue of the Hatch Act, according to Mr. Maaden. "There was a lot of misconception," which, he said he hoped the study panel will clarify.
Pupil-protection laws have been in place in Oklahoma and Missouri for several years.
Oklahoma's law, which has been on the books for three years, requires parental inspection of all instructional materials to be used in connection with a research or experimentation program and parental consent for student involvement in certain research or experimental programs, according to Thomas A. Campbell, associate superintendent of public instruction.
Three years ago, the Missouri legislature approved legislation that allows for public inspection of instructional materials. The law became effective in 1983.
Representative Sheila Lumpe, the bill's original sponsor, said the legislation was an attempt to "ap-pease" members of pro-family and fundamentalist groups that had expressed interest in pushing through a more far-reaching "little Hatch Act." A one-page statement of policy, she said, the bill requires schools to abide by the federal Hatch Act but is not "a state Hatch Act."
Suit Challenges Scope
The reach of that measure is being questioned in a suit filed this month in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County. The suit was brought by Parents Who Care for Basic Skills Inc., which has charged the Hillsboro School District with violating the federal Hatch Amendment by offering state-mandated 5th-grade sex-education courses, requiring students to keep journals, and showing a film of "Romeo and Juliet."
The suit, filed against William A. Walker, the new president of the Hillsboro school board, seeks a judgment from the court as to whether the Missouri statute referring to the federal amendment extends to activites in the school district that are not federally funded.
Vol. 04, Issue 36