Tag Archives: parental rights

US Experts Testify on Dangers of Disabilities Treaty

By Lisa Correnti

(WASHINGTON, DC – C-FAM) A panel of experts warned U.S. lawmakers this week that the UN Disabilities treaty could threaten the rights of parents and advance abortion rights.

“This treaty… would allow unelected bureaucrats in Switzerland to determine the meaning of the words ‘disability’ and ‘sexual reproductive health,’ said Congressman Jeff Duncan following a briefing to the House Sovereignty Caucus. “Such ambiguity could lead to frivolous litigation and advancing abortion as a ‘human right.’”

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) passed the Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee in July. An amendment by Senator Marco Rubio clarifying that the treaty cannot be used to advance abortion was supported by all Republicans senators but was defeated when all Democratic senators voted against it.

Dr. Susan Yoshihara explained to the Caucus how “sexual and reproductive health” was inserted in the treaty despite a lack of consensus. The Director of the International Organizations Research Group at C-FAM participated in the UN negotiations on CRPD.

“In order to get this term into the Disabilities Treaty, proponents had to circumvent the objections of 23 nations, resorting to such tactics as secret meetings and venues where not all delegations were allowed” she said.

Some U.S. senators support the treaty on the belief that pro-life protections exist since the term “reproductive health” is mentioned as a category of non-discrimination and not as a right. Dr. Yoshihara cautioned against this false sense of security.

“This should not allay the fears of pro-life lawmakers or make them think that this treaty will not be used to advance a right to abortion,” she said. “The Women’s Convention, CEDAW, never mentions abortion or ‘reproductive health’ nor does ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights], but their committees have pressured more than 90 countries over 120 times to liberalize abortion.”

Treaty proponents say “reservations” agreed to by the U.S. Senate will protect against any problems. The experts, however, called reservations inadequate. Dr. Yoshihara recalled a U.S. Supreme Court decision (Roper) in which the court “cited a portion of the ICCPR that the United States had specifically rejected in a reservation.”

Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, warned that the CRPD threatens the rights of parents of special needs children. “Government agents, and not parents, are being given the authority to decide all educational and treatment issues for disabled children.”

“Signing the treaty is an empty gesture” said Steven Groves with the Heritage Foundation. “Current U.S. law meets or exceeds the provisions of the Convention, and mere membership in the Convention will not convince the international community that America protects the rights of its disabled citizens,” he continued.

Concerns about the CRPD were expressed by the Holy See delegation when the UN adopted it in 2006. Explaining why they could not support it, the delegation stated, “It is surely tragic that…the same Convention created to protect persons with disabilities from all discrimination in the exercise of their rights, may be used to deny the very basic right to life of disabled unborn persons.”

The U.S. does not need to ratify the treaty to gain moral authority, noted Rep. Duncan and his co-chair of the Sovereignty Caucus Rep. Doug Lamborn. “America is already one of the world’s leaders in advancing the cause of those with disabilities,” said Lamborn.

Resistance to the treaty is growing. A letter from congressmen urging senators to reject the CRPD now has 49 signatures.

Lisa Correnti is Director of Operations at C-FAM. Her article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (http://www.c-fam.org/).

Your Pediatrician and Your Parental Rights

By now, the experience can only be called “commonplace.” You take your child to the doctor for a rash or a sore throat, and the next thing you know your child is fielding some unrelated questions: “Is there a gun in your home? Do you usually wear a seatbelt when riding in the car? What’s your favorite music?”

If you haven’t yet heard such a dialogue between your child and the doctor, that doesn’t mean this is not occurring. “Doctors are trained in residency how to gently steer the parent out of the room so that they can do an assessment,” reports pediatrician and ParentalRights.org board member Verlainna Callentine, M.D. “The mindset is that because so many adolescents stay healthy, there are few opportunities to have a medical impact on the child once they get out of the early years of development. When a child comes in for a particular complaint, the opportunity is seized to assess other risk factors in the child’s life.”

Dr. Callentine continues, “Absolutely, it can be intrusive. It is intentional. Some doctors may not want parents to know the kinds of questions being asked out of fear that the answers they will receive from the child will not be honest and truthful.”

This line of questioning is called a “psychosocial evaluation”. There are many of these evaluation tools used in pediatric offices. One such tool is the HEEADSSS assessment, and it has been around for years. HEEADSSS is an acronym for the myriad topics the probe is intended to cover: Home, Education & Employment, Eating & Exercise, Activities and Peer Relationships, Drug /Cigarette/Alcohol Use, Sexuality, Suicide & Depression, and Safety. Some will also include Spirituality, including questions like “Does your family affiliate with any faith community?” and “How often do you go to church/synagogue/mosque/etc.?”

You won’t believe some of the questions doctors are being urged to ask your child. Click hear to see one such questionnaire.

If government doctors were using this, there would be constitutional issues immediately. Private doctors, however, are not limited by the Constitution. So while some doctors in certain instances could possibly be held liable for invasion of privacy, the best defense is to be aware and prepared to avoid the problem entirely.

“Parents need to be educated and understand how to navigate the healthcare system with their child,” Dr. Callentine says. “They need to know they have the right to say, ‘No’ or to request to be present during the discussion so they can best partner with the healthcare provider. Parents are the advocate for their children. It is through a ‘healthy’ partnership with their pediatrician that parents and children can best be served.”

“We need to educate the parents,” Dr. Rosemary Stein, an adjunct teaching professor at the Children’s Hospital of UNC-Chapel Hill, agrees.

According to Dr. Stein, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) set up a committee several years ago to promote ratification of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in the United States. That committee is linked very strongly to medical teaching programs across the country, using its influence to see that the international model – including HEEADSSS assessments – is presented as “the way to practice medicine” in the U.S. (Dr. Stein was a fellow of the AAP until resigning over philosophical differences.)

The HEEADSSS assessment was first introduced by Americans G.M. Cohen and E. Goldenring in Contemporary Pediatrics in 1988. Obviously, then, it didn’t come from the United Nations. However, the implementation of HEEADSSS and of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) can have striking parallels. That is because both include the notable presumption that parents are agents to be monitored rather than the natural safeguard for their children’s health and rights.

This shared premise makes it easy to employ the CRC and the HEEADSSS assessment together to impede parental rights around the world. The New South Wales (Australia) Center for the Advancement of Adolescent Health (NSW CAAH) has published a popular “Resource Kit” to help doctors learn to administer these assessments. According to their website, the NSW CAAH “believe[s] that all young people have the right to comprehensive health care,” a catch-phrase in international law signifying the “right” of teenagers to make health decisions– especially in the areas of drug use and sexuality (including abortion) – without parental oversight, input, or consent. Not coincidentally, this “right” is often called for by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which consistently interprets Article 24 of the CRC to include this obligation.

The mindset is the same: parents are an obstruction that must be removed from the room so that the needs of adolescents can be met.

While it is true that there are rare instances where that is in fact the case, fit parents have the fundamental right to direct the care of their children – and that includes the right to grant or deny consent for a doctor to perform a “psychosocial assessment” of your child.

Sadly, the rise of electronic medical records and the drift toward government health care point to a day when the data collected through these assessments will find its way into the hands of the government. And the push to ratify the CRC could introduce a day when the assessment is seen as a legal necessity to fulfill the government’s obligation to ensure the best interests of every child.

For now, though, you do have the right to say, “No.” When the doctor asks you to leave the room for the sake of your child’s privacy, the two of you together – you and your child – have all the legal authority to protect your family against this intrusion. Many states allow the doctor to honor your teen’s wishes over your own, but not to insert the doctor’s own wishes over those of you and your child together.

The proposed Parental Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution will ensure that this right of parents “to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their child” will remain “a fundamental right.” It will prevent ratification of the CRC and halt the intrusion of the government into your home and privacy. It will also guarantee that no law is passed to take away your right to tell an intrusive doctor, “No.”

Source: August 28, 2012 parentalrights.org email.

Pro-Abortion and Pro-Homosexual Youth Lobby Sent Home Empty-Handed from UN

By Timothy Herrmann

NEW YORK, May 4 (C-FAM) Youth activists arrived at the UN in droves last week in an attempt to hijack the 45th session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) by promoting homosexual rights and abortion. However, countries rejected their demands and produced a fairly balanced outcome document that focuses on more pressing youth concerns like education, employment, health and development.

Sponsored by organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the Youth Coalition, and the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), youth activists flooded the conference floor and were strategically placed on country delegations with the hope of shifting the conference’s focus to sexual and reproductive health of youth and adolescents.

Throughout the week, they lobbied country delegates to place controversial language in the outcome document that would undermine the right and responsibility of parents in the sexual education of their children and include sexual and reproductive health “rights” as well as comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).

Though comprehensive sexual education was eventually included in the document, countries refused to mention it without reference to “the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents” to provide “appropriate direction and guidance on sexual and reproductive matters.” Similarly, any reference to sexual and reproductive rights in the document was explicitly understood by countries not to include abortion as a method of family planning.

Even more disappointing for radical activist groups was the exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity language used by the homosexual lobby to promote homosexual rights at the UN. The Arab group and a majority of the African countries along with the help of the Holy See, the Russian Federation, and Pakistan threw out the only reference to sexual orientation in the final draft of the document on the last day of the conference.

While the exclusion of “sexual orientation” appears to be a victory, the UN dialect is so misleading that the single mention that does exist in the document of the right to “decide freely and responsibly on matters related to…sexuality” greatly worried delegations like Uganda, who believed it was an attempt by countries supportive of homosexual rights to sneak in new language.

In addition, even though the conference theme was “Adolescents and Youth,” countries could not agree upon the definition of either term. Initially, they were defined as falling within the ages of 10 and 24 but given that the document mentions sexual and reproductive rights, countries were unwilling to afford these rights to 10 year olds and the definition proved too controversial to include.

Despite the hard fought battle of many delegations to move beyond reproductive rights and, instead, secure strong references to education, employment and the Millennium Development Goals in the document, the serious misgivings among countries related to the reproductive rights and sexuality of youth made it nearly impossible to reach consensus. As a result the chairman of the Population Commission took it upon himself to put together the final outcome document, or chairman’s text, which even he admitted, “was not completely satisfactory to all.”

Timothy Hermann is Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute’s Representative to the United Nations. His article first appeared in Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM, a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (http://www.c-fam.org/). This article appears with permission.

Opposing the CRC from Within

By Michael Ramey

Every so often we get the question: If the Convention on the Rights of the Child is as dangerous as we warn, where are the complaints from those who have already signed on to it? What do those who have lived with it for the last 20 years have to say?

On November 24, 2011, more than 120 non-profit organizations from the Russian Federation and Ukraine gathered in St. Petersburg to adopt a joint statement answering that very question.

The result is the St. Petersburg Resolution on the Anti-Family Trends in the United Nations, on the Unacceptable Actions of the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Monitoring Bodies, and on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure. As you could no doubt surmise from the title, they share a lot of our concerns.

The St. Petersburg Resolution contains 16 articles declaring the conviction of the signatories that the United Nations and its treaty-monitoring bodies routinely overstep the mission and authority granted to them by those documents. The committees which oversee the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are specifically called out.

Article 9 is especially relevant to our own cause and concerns. In it, these internal witnesses “insist that states should respect the unique role and position that natural (biological) parents have in the lives of their children. Any interpretations of any provision under the international or national law should reflect the natural presumption that natural parents usually act in good faith and in the best interests of their children…. We are strongly concerned over the existing unfounded and hazardous interpretation of Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, regarding the government as having authority to control and supervise the life of any family and the decisions of any parent under the pretext of providing ‘the best interests of the child’.”

Additionally, Article 13 expresses our shared concern over the tendency of the CRC committee to interpret the treaty “in ways that create new state obligations or that alter the substance of the treaties.” The resolution cites as a clear example the committee’s assertion of an all-out ban on all corporal punishment, even in the home – in contravention of the CRC itself as interpreted under the rules of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. In response, the Resolution states, “we regard those actions and interpretations of UN treaty monitoring bodies as unacceptable and undermining the genuine basics of international law.”

Unfortunately for the people of Russia and Ukraine, the St. Petersburg Resolution is not binding in any way. For them, it is an instrument by which to urge their governments not to ratify the new Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure, which would grant even more authority to the rogue Committee on the Rights of the Child.

For us, the resolution provides testimony from within the nations of the CRC which we will share with Congress and the Senate. This testimony makes clear, from those who have lived under the CRC, that it is not something we would want to adopt here in the United States.

Michael Ramey is Director of Communications & Research at Parental Rights. For more information about Parental Rights, visit www.parentalrights.org.

Overruled: Government Invasion of Parental Rights (Video Documentary)

Ohio Senate Approves Pro-Life Legislation

(COLUMBUS, OH) – The Ohio Senate passed House Bill 63, Ohio Right to Life’s Judicial Bypass legislation, by a 23 to 9 bipartisan vote this afternoon. This pro-life legislation will protect minors and their unborn children by closing loopholes and raising the bar to protect parents’ ability to care for their children.

“We thank Senate President Tom Niehaus and the pro-life members of the Senate who continue to advance life-saving policies,” said Mike Gonidakis, Executive Director of Ohio Right to Life. “H.B. 63 strengthens parents’ ability to care for their children and prevents lawyers and others from taking mom and dad’s place when the child needs them most.”

Current Ohio law states that parental consent is required before a minor can obtain an abortion, but a loophole exists which allows judges to bypass parental involvement and allow a minor to obtain an abortion. H.B. 63 puts an end to this “rubber-stamp” judicial approval.

Today’s vote on the Senate floor follows the overwhelming 64 to 33 bipartisan vote of support it received in the Ohio House earlier this year. After the House concurs with today’s passage of the legislation, the bill will be sent to pro-life Governor John Kasich to be signed into law.

Indiana School Agrees to Cease Subjecting Students to Intrusive Mental Health Surveys Without Written Parental Consent

(PORTAGE, IN) Officials with the Portage Township School Corporation have agreed to cease their practice of having students complete mental health and suicide surveys without their parents’ written consent after being warned by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute that doing so places them in violation of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), a federal law which governs student surveys by educational agencies receiving federal funding.

“This is a huge victory for parental rights,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Parents are the ones who should decide whether they want their children to be mined for information about their personal thoughts, beliefs or practices. We take it seriously when government officials try to short-circuit that essential parent-child relationship.”

According to a parent who contacted The Rutherford Institute for help, on at least two occasions Portage Township School District sent home information addressed to parents concerning surveys to be administered to students in a quest for information about student drug use and depression or suicide risks. The surveys asked students to provide sensitive, personal information, including information about illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating and demeaning behavior and/or mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student. However, rather than requesting the parent’s prior written consent, as required by federal and state law and its own district policy, the school had included an “opt-out” form, allowing the parent to opt his or her student out of participation. In the case of the survey concerning suicide risk, only one day was allotted for the parent to review the provided information, make a decision, sign the enclosed “opt-out” form, and return it to school officials.

Institute attorneys pointed out that the school district’s practice of relying on passive consent for the surveys, by which parents are presumed to have consented if they do not return a particular form, constituted a violation of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), a federal law intended to protect the privacy of students and the rights of parents to control the circumstances under which their children are exploited for information-gathering. PPRA, which covers educational entities that receive federal funds, applies whenever students are asked to submit to any survey, analysis or evaluation that seeks private information about the student, such as political affiliations, sexual activity, illegal activities or religious beliefs.

The Institute argued that by allowing these surveys to be administered to students without written parental consent, the Portage Schools were acting in contravention to the rights of parents and the requirements of federal law. Portage Township officials responded to the Institute’s demands by agreeing not to subject any student to mental health and suicide surveys unless their parents provide actual written consent.

In 2005, Rutherford Institute attorneys had filed a civil rights lawsuit in defense of a 15-year-old student from South Bend, Ind., who was subjected by school officials to a controversial mental health examination known as TeenScreen without the consent of her parents.

Legal Brief Details Flaws in Pro-Lesbian Custody Ruling

By Thomas McFeely

NEW YORK (C-FAM) Pro-family legal experts have mobilized in defense of a Chilean father at risk of losing custody of his three daughters, courtesy of a decision by an international human rights tribunal.

Jaime López Allende has had sole custody of his daughters for the last eight years, has been an exemplary father, and is the girls’ preferred custodial parent. This didn’t matter when the transnational Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) ruled on a claim filed against the Chilean government by ex-wife Karen Atala, a Chilean judge who broke up their marriage to pursue a lesbian relationship.

The IACHR concluded Chile’s courts impermissibly violated the American Convention on Human Rights by denying Atala custody because of her “sexual orientation.” The commission’s non-binding decision is now before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has authority under the American Convention on Human Rights to issue binding rulings. On Sept. 8, the Alliance Defense Fund submitted a carefully-researched amicus legal brief to the Court detailing four fundamental flaws in the IACHR’s findings.

First, the ADF brief argues, the Inter-American Court would undermine national sovereignty and “most certainly exceed its competency” by intervening in a matter that Chilean courts handled in full conformity with that country’s legal procedures. The ADF brief also addresses an IACHR request that the Court order Chile to punish the judges who ruled against Atala. “Such overreach is breathtaking in its audacity and patently wrong in so many ways,” the brief comments. “That the Commission would do so … indicates that the Commission must have been overcome by a reckless ideological impulse, in service of which all other principles must be cast aside.”

Second, the amicus brief points out that “sexual orientation” isn’t even mentioned in the American Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, there is neither a substantial body of international legal precedent nor consensus within the international community that the ill-defined concept of “sexual orientation” should be a protected human-rights category.

The third critical flaw in the IACHR decision is that Chilean courts “determined that Karen Atala was an unfit mother for reasons unrelated to her sexual orientation,” the ADF legal brief notes. Judges did consider aspects of Atala’s personal life that suggested she was an inappropriate custodial parent, such as her role in breaking up the family, her subsequent inability to maintain a continuous relationship and her insistence on utilizing her daughters as unwilling pawns in her high-profile political activism as a “lesbiana publica.” But this consideration didn’t violate Atala’s “right to privacy,” as concluded by the IACHR, since similar conduct by a heterosexual parent automatically would be regarded as highly relevant in determining whether granting that parent custody was in the best interests of the parent’s children.

Finally, the ADF brief asserts, even if the Court finds that Atala’s human rights were violated, it’s still bound to reject the IACHRs’ custody finding. That’s because it’s settled international law that the children’s best interests trump all other factors, and the facts incontrovertibly establish Allende as a superior custodial parent.

“An individual’s sexual orientation must remain a neutral factor in all custody determinations, and should not give rise to a ‘supercategory’ or preferential treatment,” the ADF brief concludes. “To do so would be in direct violation of long-standing international principles placing the best interests of children above all other considerations.”

The Court is currently hearing arguments about the Atala case. Other pro-family groups from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Jamaica have said they also intend to submit briefs in support of Allende.

Thomas McFeely writes for C-FAM. This article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (http://www.c-fam.org/). This article appears with permission.

The Debt Ceiling and the PRA

By Michael Ramey,

You’re probably tired of hearing about the debt by now, but did you realize the proposed Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will help keep us out of worse trouble in the future?

The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been used internationally to urge nations to spend more on their children’s programs, and the CRC Committee has in multiple instances faulted a country for not investing more of its gross domestic product (or GDP) in child aid programs. The Committee has held these nations to be out of compliance with the treaty’s demands – including Moldova, the poorest nation in Europe, which was urged in 2009 to “further increase budget allocations for the implementation of the rights recognized in the Convention.”

Such criticisms may fall on deaf ears elsewhere in the world, but if we were to ratify the CRC here, “the judges in every State [would be] bound thereby,” regardless of any law or state constitutional provisions to the contrary (U.S. Constitution, Article VI). That means our own courts would be constitutionally bound to correct whatever the Committee says is out of compliance with the treaty.

So imagine if we had ratified the CRC last year. Added to the already deafening clamor of voices demanding various expenditures not be touched by Congress, our courts would likely be demanding an increase in federal funding of children’s programs to fulfill treaty obligations under the CRC.

The Parental Rights Amendment will prevent ratification of that treaty and preserve our national sovereignty. At a time when our Congress has been spending way too much already, the last thing we need is the international community (backed by our own courts) demanding that they spend even more!

The national debt is indeed a huge concern, but let’s not lose sight of how vital our parental rights are as well, for the preservation of our nation, our heritage, and our homes.

Michael Ramey is Director of Communications at the Parental Rights organization. To learn more about their work and the Parental Rights amendment, go to www.parentalrights.org

Do Parents’ Rights End at the Schoolhouse Gate?

By John w. Whitehead

<p style=”margin-left:50pt;margin-right:55pt;font-size:8pt;”>“There is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children, either independent of their right to direct the upbringing and education of their children or encompassed by it. We also hold that parents have no due process or privacy right to override the determinations of public schools as to the information to which their children will be exposed while enrolled as students.”— Fields v. Palmdale School District PSD, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (2005)</p>

Do parents have a right to control the upbringing of their children, especially when it comes to what their children should be exposed to in terms of sexual practices and intimate relationships?

That question goes to the heart of the battle being played out in school districts and courts across America right now over parental rights and whether parents essentially forfeit those rights when they send their children to a public school. On one side of the debate are those who believe, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, that “the child is not the mere creature of the state” and that the right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children is a fundamental liberty interest protected by the U.S. Constitution. On the other side are government officials who not only believe, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Fields v. Palmdale School District PSD (2005), that “[s]chools cannot be expected to accommodate the personal, moral or religious concerns of every parent,” but go so far as to insist that parents’ rights do “not extend beyond the threshold of the school door.”

A recent incident in Fitchburg, Massachusetts clearly illustrates this growing tension over whether young people, especially those in the public schools, are essentially wards of the state, to do with as government officials deem appropriate, in defiance of the children’s constitutional rights and those of their parents. On two separate occasions this year, students at Memorial Middle School (MMS) in Fitchburg were administered surveys at school asking overtly intimate and sexually suggestive questions without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Students were required to complete the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) at school, a survey which asks questions such as “Have you ever tried to kill yourself?”, “Have you ever sniffed glue, or breathed the contents of spray cans, or inhaled any paints?”, and “With how many people have you had sexual intercourse?” Older students were also given the Youth Program Survey (YPS), which asks true/false questions about a student’s beliefs about contraception (“I feel comfortable talking with any partner I have about using a condom”) and sexual activity (“I have had oral sex at some point in my life”).

While the survey questions are explicit enough in terms of their content, the multiple-choice answers are actually quite informative—at least, in the sense that they educate young test-takers about a host of practices and terms with which they might not actually be familiar and provide them with suggestions on how to go about acquiring drugs, sex, etc. This is a not-so-subtle form of indoctrination into behaviors that no parent would want for their children. For example, the survey asks: “During your life, how many times have you used heroin (also called smack, junk, or China White)? …how many times have you used methamphetamines (also called speed, crystal, crank, or ice)? … how many times have you used ecstasy (also called MDMA)?” And for those not up on the various prescription drugs, the survey provides a handy list: “During your life, how many times have you taken a prescription drug (such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax) without a doctor’s prescription?”

One question asking how students acquired cigarettes suggested the following as responses:

A. I did not smoke cigarettes during the past 30 days
B. I bought them in a store such as a convenience store, supermarket, discount store, or gas station
C. I bought them from a vending machine
D. I gave someone else money to buy them for me
E. I borrowed (or bummed) them from someone else
F. A person 18 years old or older gave them to me
G. I took them from a store or family member
H. I got them some other way

As for sex, the survey asks, “The last time you had sexual intercourse, what one method did you or your partner use to prevent pregnancy?” The responses provided are an education in themselves.

A. I have never had sexual intercourse
B. No method was used to prevent pregnancy
C. Birth control pills
D. Condoms
E. Depo-Provera (or any injectable birth control), Nuva Ring (or any birth control ring), Implanon (or any implant), or any IUD
F. Withdrawal
G. Some other method
H. Not sure

Moreover, instead of acquiring written consent from parents, which is required under federal law, before subjecting students to these invasive surveys, MMS officials relied on so-called “passive consent,” by which parents are presumed to have given their approval if they do not return the opt-out form sent home with students. When challenged by a parent over this passive consent practice, a representative with the local social services agency administering the survey stated that the reason the “passive consent” system was adopted and why the method of obtaining consent would not be changed is that the agency needs a 98% participation rate in the survey in order to qualify for future government grants. In other words, recognizing that the participation rate would be 30% or less if a system requiring actual written parental consent were employed, test administrators adopt the fiction that a failure to respond is tantamount to parental consent in order to achieve the numbers needed to qualify for grant funding for their activities.

Unfortunately, Fitchburg, Mass., is not the only locality using young people as test subjects for the purpose of mining data and securing government funding. In fact, as of 2009, the only states that did not participate at all in the survey were Oregon, Washington and Minnesota. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the government agency responsible for creating and distributing the survey, states that the main purpose of the survey is to monitor “priority health-risk behaviors and the prevalence of obesity and asthma among youth and young adults.”

Currently used in at least 45 states, the YRBS test takes approximately 35 minutes to complete, with questions on everything from how much television the student watches to thoughts on suicide, sexual activity and drug use. For example, the 2011 middle school questionnaire includes such questions as: “Have you ever seriously thought about killing yourself?” “Have you ever made a plan about killing yourself?” “Have you ever used marijuana?” “Have you ever used any form of cocaine, including powder, crack, or freebase?” “Have you ever had sexual intercourse?” “The last time you had sexual intercourse, did you or your partner use a condom?” “Have you ever sniffed glue, or breathed the contents of spray cans, or inhaled any paints or sprays to get high?” “Have you ever taken any diet pills, powders, or liquids without a doctor’s advice to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight?” “Have you ever vomited or taken laxatives to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight?”

Developed in 1990 by the CDC, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System is similar to other mental health screening programs that have been creeping into the classroom since President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health recommended mental health screenings for all school-aged children, including those in preschool. However, while the supposed goal is to identify and prevent risky behavior among young people, many parents are understandably up in arms over these tests.

First, there are concerns about how the tests are administered. Health screening tests like YRBS are often given to students without parental knowledge or consent. While the CDC insists that local parental permission procedures are followed prior to administering the test, many school systems use the passive parental notification procedures, which assume that parents have given their consent unless they notify the school of an objection. But passive notification is merely a surreptitious way to avoid obtaining written parental consent. And in the end, whether due to the child losing the notification form or forgetting to give it to the parents, parents are often left in the dark, unaware that their children are being subjected to such invasive tests.

Second, the manner in which these tests are administered puts them in violation of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), a federal law that was intended to protect the rights of parents and students. PPRA, which covers educational entities that receive federal funds, applies whenever students are asked to submit to any survey, analysis or evaluation that seeks private information about the student, such as political affiliations, sexual activity, illegal activities or religious beliefs. The PPRA allows parents to inspect their children’s instructional materials and requires that schools obtain “written parental consent” before schools engage in such programs as mental health screening.

Third, critics of these risk assessment tests insist that they’re aimed at advocating antidepressant drugs for teenagers. For example, TeenScreen, which is similar to YRBS in its intent to identify suicidal tendencies and social disorders, has been labeled by the Alliance for Human Research Protection as a “duo-drug promotion scam” that declares “otherwise normal children to be mentally ill.” As a result, an increasing number of children are being medicated with antidepressants, despite FDA warnings about the increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children who take them. All the while, pharmaceutical companies rake in the profits.

Finally, legitimate questions remain about whether such tests really help students achieve healthier lifestyles. TeenScreen, for example, has an 84% false-positive rate. This means that 84% of teens diagnosed as having some sort of mental health or social disorder are, in fact, perfectly normal teenagers. Furthermore, although the CDC insists that there is no danger in asking students highly suggestive questions about sex, drugs and suicide, most parents prefer to decide the timing and content of such a sensitive discussion.

Helping America’s teens make positive, healthy and responsible lifestyle choices is a worthy goal, but it must start with parents within the home. If the schools are to be part of the process, they must ensure that parents are fully informed and involved at every step of the way. In turn, parents should demand that they be notified about mental health evaluations and that the evaluations not be given unless they have provided express written permission, which is required under federal law. Parents should also be provided an advance copy of the screening questionnaire in order to make an informed decision about whether they want their child to be screened.

As Elliott M. Davis, writing for the Harvard Journal of Law &amp; Public Policy, concludes in his analysis of the Ninth Circuit’s Fields decision:

<p style=”margin-left:20pt;margin-right:30pt;font-size:8pt;”>The right of a parent to control the upbringing of his child is fundamental. Though public schools can and do usurp many parental choices, this right—which encompasses “the inculcation of moral standards”—vests first in parents. When a child passes through the public school doors, he does not become a “mere creature of the state.” Judicial interference in public schools should be minimal because legislatures are primarily charged with crafting policy; courts, however, should not stand idly by as public schools violate fundamental rights. As the Supreme Court declared in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, “The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures—Boards of Education not excepted.” Although the public school exerts a high level of control over its students, its control is not absolute. American constitutional jurisprudence affirms that this society is not one where children are wholly disconnected from their parents and educated entirely by the state. If the Meyer-Pierce parental right is to have any real meaning, it is to preclude the public school from egregiously usurping the parental role in matters of the utmost importance.</p>

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about the Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.