January 9, 1996 in Nation/World

School Condom Program Upheld Court Rejects Parental Challenge To School Officials’ Authority

David G. Savage Los Angeles Times
 

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a parental challenge to a school program that makes condoms freely available to junior and senior high students.

Some parents said they should have a right to opt out of the program, but the Massachusetts courts said school officials, not dissenting parents, controlled what happened on campus. Without comment, the justices refused to hear an appeal filed on behalf of parents who argued that they had a right to control the moral upbringing of their children.

Separately, the justices also rejected the first smokers’-rights claim to come before them. They refused to hear the case of a Florida woman who fell victim to a city policy that required job applicants to swear they had not used tobacco products for one year.

Though most of Washington was shut down by a major winter blizzard, the Supreme Court met on schedule. All but Justice John Paul Stevens, who was stranded in Florida, were on the bench to hear arguments Monday.

Monday’s condom case from Massachusetts suggests the issue will be decided in battles before local school boards, rather than in the courts.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the school policy on the grounds that students are not compelled to participate.

In 1992, the Falmouth, Mass., schools began a voluntary program of distributing condoms to students from grades seven to 12. They could be obtained free from a school nurse or for $.75 from a vending machine in the restrooms.

Students were given pamphlets on AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

School board members called the program an enlightened effort to prevent disease and teen pregnancies, but some parents said the move would only encourage early sex among teens.

In a lawsuit, the parents said they should be notified when their child requests a condom and should have the right to say “no.” School officials said this opt-out provision would make the program ineffective, and they noted that a majority of the community supported the policy.

xxxx SUPREME COURT ACTION Let stand the designation of 6.8 million acres of federal land in Oregon, Washington and California as protected “critical habitat” for the northern spotted owl. Rejected a constitutional challenge to a federal law that bans indecent programming on radio and broadcast television during the day and in prime-time evening hours. Refused to review former boxing champion Mike Tyson’s rape conviction. Ruled that train crews are not on duty while they wait to be picked up at a stopped train after they have worked the maximum 12 straight hours allowed by federal law. Heard arguments in a dispute over whether copyright protection can be granted to the part of a computer program that instructs users how to use the program.

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