Facts of the Potential Litigation
On August of 2011, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced that all middle and high schools will be required to teach compulsory sexual health education as part of the core curriculum. Required Health classes focusing on human sexuality are provided as mandated at Edward R. Murrow high school. Some of the topics of this course include but are not limited to the following: HIV/AIDS, practicing of safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases, description of both male and female anatomical differences, birth control etc. In October of 2012,
Mr. Anthony Leonardi and several other guidance counselors began receiving phone calls from parents of Muslim faith stating, that they objected to the sexual content being taught, particularly surrounding lessons on AIDS, pregnancy, and condom distribution, as it was a violation of their religious practice to learn such material. During the remainder of the school year two other students said that their parents objected to the learning of and being taught lessons of this type.
During November of 2012, a parent requested a meeting with the Assistant Principal of Physical Education to object to her child being taught this subject matter. The parent had requested that her child be allowed to “opt-out” of the class completely if the aforementioned content matter that she deemed as inappropriate (based on her religious and moral beliefs) was not removed from the course. Furthermore, the parent argued that the teacher was pushing her viewpoint of birth control and abortion on her child. The Assistant Principal explained that such material is required in the curriculum to meet New York State graduation requirements and standards, and that the student may not “opt-out” of this class if she had wanted her child to graduate. The Assistant Principal also stated that the teacher like the student is entitled to express her opinion. The parent was upset and threatened to contact Chancellor Walcott.
Legal Questions Presented
The questions presented are as follows:
1. By teaching potentially objectionable materials of a sexual nature and defending a controversial position are we violating the rights of students of faith?
2. By potentially banning sexual education material and/or lessons as well as suppressing controversial topics are we violating free speech protections?
Analysis of the Questions Presented
Attempting to navigate the perilous waters of free speech can be quite a daunting task when it involves mandated curricular lessons in a school setting. Religious neutrality must be maintained in such a setting. A teacher at Edward R. Murrow high school is a state actor and must abide by the rules of the New York State Board of Regents. This proves to be a legal conundrum. This paper will attempt to navigate through these waters by providing support for both sides of the argument. Pursuant to New York State Education Department Regulation Part 100.5 section 7 sub section iv (f)...