Bernstein on Stafford Public Schools' Action: "Weaselly" Way Out
Convincing a judge that a partisan political club relates to school curriculum while an anti-abortion club does not may be a difficult task, says Professor David Bernstein, commenting on a suit filed by a Stafford County, Virginia, high school student whose request to form such a club was turned down by school administrators.
Claiming that the club failed to meet the standard of a direct curricular link, as the family life curriculum prohibits teachers from discussing abortion, school administration took what Bernstein refers to as a "weaselly" way out of a controversial situation.
Student sues Stafford schools to start club, Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 29, 2007. (Associated Press)
"Colonial Forge Principal Lisa L. Martin denied the request for the club, saying it doesn't relate to the curriculum.
"However, Cortman said the school has other clubs that don't appear to be directly linked with studies -- Young Republicans, Young Democrats and Students Against Destructive Decisions, for example.
"School-system policy encourages clubs that 'supplement the goals and objectives of the school division.' In a letter to the student, Martin said the club 'does not meet the standard of a direct curricular link.' The family-life curriculum prohibits teachers from discussing abortion, she wrote.
"'That strikes me as a weaselly way to avoid creating a controversial club,' said George Mason University law professor David E. Bernstein.
"Stafford schools spokeswoman Valerie Cottongim said school officials do not comment on pending litigation.
"Stafford County School Board Chairman Robert S. Belman also declined to comment because the entire board has not discussed the matter. He said he expects the board to take up the issue soon in a closed meeting.
"The student's family contacted the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the girl for free. The suit, filed Sept. 12 in federal court, asks the school division to pay the organization's legal fees.
"Bernstein said it will be difficult to convince a judge that a partisan political club relates to the curriculum while an anti-abortion club does not.
"'It strikes me offhand that if they teach civics, any club advocating civic action on any particular issue would be curricular-related,' he said.
"Cortman noted that the platforms of the school's Republican and Democrat clubs mention abortion.
"'Once they do have clubs organized around partisan politics it makes it almost impossible to perceive of a plausible reason to forbid people to organize around ideas,' Bernstein said."