When you send your kids to a public school or private school, you have to abide by the rules of the game. It’s as plain as that. Public schools are owned and operated by the local or state government. As such, the government sets rules about attendance and those who attend.
An obvious example of this is the vaccination schedule. For decades, public schools have required that students be vaccinated in accordance with a recommended schedule codified in their regulations. For the most part these schedules follow the CDC recommendations. If you do not keep your child’s vaccines up to date, you will be notified of the noncompliance. If you refuse to bring your child’s vaccinations back into compliance, your child will be removed from the school, and other repercussions could arise as well.
It is very well known, very well documented what happens when vaccination coverage lapses. Varicella (chicken pox) outbreaks were once routinely accepted as a part of school attendance when I was growing up. Today they’re exceedingly rare thanks to a varicella vaccine and almost 20 years of active vaccination.
Measles outbreaks also used to be a frequent occurrence when my parents were young and my grandparents were growing up. Thanks to the measles vaccine developed and propagated in the late 1950s and early 1960s, measles is very rare in the United States. And the same can be said with numerous other diseases, including polio of which the most famous victim is arguably President Franklin Roosevelt.
One thing that a lot of parents forget is that when a child is attending school, that school becomes responsible for the child’s welfare. As such laws, rules and regulations have been stipulated as part of that attendance. Vaccines are one part of it, but some States even stipulate that a child must also receive routine medical and dental exams as well.
A lot of this, I feel, arises from a "cover your ass" perspective in which rules and regulations arise as a means of preventing lawsuits, which can be extremely costly to a school district, especially if they lose. This is despite the fact parents may often be required to sign releases of liability when enrolling their children into the public school system or at a private school.
Now the question being asked on this is whether this is all somehow a violation of a parent’s rights.
That question is mostly being asked by a lot of "liberty-minded" conservatives who see this as somehow being a violation of their parental rights. These individuals also tend to be hardcore pro-life, which is the position wherein a woman’s rights take a back seat when she’s pregnant. And then when she gives birth, suddenly she has full dominion over the child. They declare the unborn child to be fully-human with all the rights and privileges of the born, then promptly forget that or set it aside once the child is born.
The proper question on this situation must come from two other sides: the school, whether public or private is immaterial, and the student, a minor who is wholly dependent upon his or her parents/guardians for his or her livelihood. As such, what is the role and responsibility of a school when it comes to their students, and to what is a child entitled from his or her parents under the dependency to which they are all subject while minors?
In examining the questions within the proper scope, you will notice one thing is missing: parent’s don’t actually have "rights". Instead they have only responsibilities and duties to their children. They have some discretion in making decisions over how to care for their children, such as in determining meals and clothing styles, but only to the extent that it does not come into conflict with their duty to provide an adequate level of care for their children.
An adequate level of care is typically defined as ensuring the child is not starving – starving being defined as chronically hungry, not the acute hunger we’ve all experienced in our lives – and is otherwise in good health and has adequate and appropriate clothing for the given weather and circumstances. In any area of this where a parent may fall short due to inadequate income or circumstances, help is available through government agencies and various charities.
One thing that has a lot of parents upset over this whole thing is the existence of regulations and rules for school attendance that basically forces it upon parents, despite the fact that in many States these rules and regulations have existed for years.
It is no secret that most adults would rather avoid the dentist and doctor, likely until necessary. I’ll admit that I’m like that. And even then we probably procrastinate. It would not surprise me if most adults do not have a regular physician or a regular dentist, and do not get regular health exams as a result. Now while it is debatable whether getting an annual medical exam is cost-effective, especially if you’re young and healthy, having one every couple years has its benefits – it’s one of the reasons the Affordable Care Act requires this to be covered by insurance with no out-of-pocket expense.
Dental exams, however, are a bit different. Bi-annual exams are beneficial and cost-effective – and something I’ve been putting off for a long time, as the last time I saw a dentist was when a wisdom tooth exploded when I brushed it a little too hard, as that’s how badly it had decayed.
So why are routine dental and medical exams being required in some States in the same fashion as vaccines? Let’s look at yet another angle to see why such ideas are actually justified.
I have two cats, and as a pet owner I have certain duties under the law. The law recognizes in part that these two cats are autonomous with certain rights that are derived from their dependency on me for their care and livelihood. Like parents are required to get their children vaccinated to attend school, I’m required by law to have my pets vaccinated against, at the least, rabies. My veterinarian recommends other vaccines as well, which I do get, to ensure adequate protection, while kennels may require other vaccines as well to squelch the possibility of an outbreak. The veterinary clinic that cared for my two while we were living in West Des Moines required a particular vaccine (I want to say feline leukemia) to house a cat in their kennel, and I’ve always presumed the requirement came in response to an outbreak.
Along with this, I also have the duty to ensure they are not starving. And even though every morning they like to make me think they are, they most certainly are not. I also have to ensure they have adequate clean water and a clean litter box. If I do not provide these things and it becomes noticeable to someone else, the city may seize my cats from me, charge me for any veterinary care necessary to bring them back to health, and then adopt them out.
And I could also be arrested to face charges of animal neglect.
Along this line they have had a health exam every year along with receiving their annual vaccines. Medically speaking, I take care of my cats better than I take care of myself. Both are eight years old, and while one is overweight but otherwise healthy, the other is a textbook example of a healthy feline.
Now though the law codifies various requirements of pet ownership, are these requirements a violation of my liberties as a pet owner? Not really.
If you have an adequate understanding of the dependency relationship and a healthy understanding of the non-aggression principle, you recognize a couple things: 1. like a child to his or her natural parents, my cats did not choose their dependency to me, and 2. because they did not choose it, I actually have a greater responsibility to them to ensure their care and comfort. And if I cannot provide it, I should seek out help to that effect or be willing to give them up to someone who can.
And so the same applies to a parent as to their child.
Codifying a requirement for school attendance that parents take their children in for routine dental exams and periodic medical exams is not a violation of parental "rights" any more than the legal requirements surrounding the care of my pets. Instead what the codifying of that requirement provides is a punishment for dereliction. As I can lose my cats and face arrest, fines and possible imprisonment for neglecting them, so too parents can face the same with regard to their children.
And screaming "parental rights" or something to that effect won’t change that fact.
Those who scream that their parental rights are being violated when these requirements come to light tend to be ones who feel that their personal beliefs come first. They scream when laws or regulations differ from their "beliefs". It all comes down to merely believing that one’s beliefs trump the rights of their children.
Anti-vaccine parents don’t like that children must be vaccinated in accordance to a particular schedule and hold beliefs contrary to two centuries of scientific evidence. Anti-medicine parents eschew modern medicine in favor of homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, or any other kind of care that doesn’t require seeing a physician carrying the letters MD after their name.
And worst still are the parents who eschew all of this in favor of only prayer.
Keep in mind that how you raise your child affects everyone in your community and beyond. Homeschooling your child does not escape you from that reality. Homeschooling your child does not alleviate you from your responsibility to ensure your child is healthy and remains such, and that includes routine medical and dental exams and vaccinating on time (unless you have a justifiable medical reason for not doing so).
The only thing that homeschooling provides is a larger buffer to discovering any potential neglect.
Again the codified rules that children receive routine dental and medical exams do not violate parental rights, because you do not have a right to be derelict in ensuring your child is healthy. And in actuality, parents don’t really have rights anyway. They have duties and responsibilities, not just to their children, such as in ensuring the child is healthy, but in how they teach their children to interact with the rest of the world.