'Sex Survey' Superintendent Criticizes Parents' Motives

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The superintendent of the California school district involved in a controversial 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling over parental rights has questioned the motives of the parents involved in the case.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court dismissed the appeal filed by parents who had sued the Palmdale School District over a sex survey handed to students in the 1st, 3rd and 5th grades. The court, in upholding a lower court decision, ruled that "there is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children."

Furthermore, parents have no fundamental right to influence their children on sexual matters "in accordance with their personal and religious values and beliefs," the court stated.

The survey, handed out to the pre-pubescent students in 2002, asked questions pertaining to sex, including the frequency of "having sex feelings in my body," "touching my private parts too much," and "washing myself because I feel dirty on the inside."

Parents sued the school district because the parental consent form did not mention that questions would pertain to sex and they didn't want the school teaching their children about sexual issues.

But Palmdale School Superintendent Dr. Jack Gyves told Cybercast News Service Friday that the school district accepted responsibility for the "inappropriate survey" and apologized to parents before it ever went to court.

The survey was conducted by an outside health services consultant who was conducting research for her dissertation, and Gyves said the questionnaire given to the students "was not the version of the survey that had been approved by the district.

"Whether that was miscommunication or intent on the part of the person administering the survey, I don't know," Gyves said.

He added that parents weren't informed about the sexual nature of the questions because the school didn't know about them. "They were misinformed, not intentionally," he said. "It was acknowledged that that survey was inappropriate for that age level of kids and as far as we were concerned, locally it was a dead issue."

Gyves emphasized that the survey was not part of the curriculum and was a "one time shot." But he added that "the policy was shored up so it wouldn't happen again."

He also criticized the parents who took the case to court despite the school district's apology. "If they had just sought remedy without monetary damages I would give them more credit for being altruistic," Gyves said, "but when you put money into the equation it makes you wonder."

In terms of a possible precedent being established by the 9th Circuit Court decision, Gyves said he thinks the ruling addresses an important question of parental involvement. "I think the constitutionality, and I'm not an expert on constitutional law, but the constitutionality deals with the rights of parents to control curriculum for all children as opposed to adjudicating the appropriateness of curriculum for their own."

Parents should be involved in their children's education, Gyves said, but "the question is to what degree."

Among the critics of the survey itself are U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, (R-Pa.) a child psychologist, who told Cybercast News Service Friday that "simply dropping these questions on children's laps could be confusing and some might argue possibly harmful."

Murphy said the questions could be appropriate in certain circumstances, but not in a school setting. "In the privacy of a psychologist's office, dealing with a case where I was worried that a child may have been abused," he said, "these questions handled in that controlled setting by a trained professional could be appropriate.

"On the other hand," he added, "if there was a case where a total stranger at a school bus stop started asking these questions to a child, I have no doubt that a prosecutor would claim that perpetrator is causing harm by asking those questions."

Murphy and several other House members participating in a Friday news conference on Capitol Hill said they were "outraged" by the appellate court decision. The conservatives support a plan that would split the 9th Circuit, the nation's largest federal circuit court of appeals, into two courts.

The 9th Circuit, which has been labeled by many critics as the "9th Circus," is the most frequently overturned circuit court in the nation. It is best known for declaring that the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. On Friday, Murphy said splitting the court would serve to keep its judges accountable.

See Earlier Stories:
Dems Oppose Republican Move to Split the Ninth Circuit (Nov. 4, 2005)

Appeals Court Declares Parenthood Unconstitutional, Group Says (Nov. 3, 2005)

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