PRAIRIE VIEW A&M UNIVERSITY
PUBLIC SCHOOL LAW
William Allan Kritsonis, PhD
Soul-Lana T. Singh
June 21, 2009
Parents are an essential partner in the education of their children. While constitutional
law does not necessarily outline parental rights regarding education, Texas statutory law does. In
fact, in 1995 the Texas Legislature amended the Texas Education Code to include parent rights
and responsibilities. According to Chapter 26 of the Texas Education Code §4.001, “Parents will
be full partners with educators in the education of their children (Walsh, Kemerer, & Maniotis,
2007). The state cannot require all students to attend public schools, thus enabling the parents to
right to choose where their children will be educated. Parents may send their children to public,
private, or home schools.
For the purpose of this report, we will present the case that relates to granting parents the
right to choose which institution of learning their children will attend. The findings are intended
to be informative and beneficial in understanding the precedent set forth for parent rights and
responsibilities regarding the education of their wards.
United States Supreme Court
SOCIETY OF SISTERS
268 U.S. 510
Plaintiffs-Appellants: Walter Pierce, Governor of Oregon
Isaac H. Van Winkle, Attorney General of Oregon
Defendant-Appellee: Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary
Hill Military Academy
On November 7, 1922, the voters in Oregon passed an initiative to amend the Compulsory
Education Act. The amendment was aimed at creating a common American culture by eliminating any
dogmas that may negatively influence the established norms of American society. All children between
the ages of eight and sixteen were required to attend public school. Children who were mentally disabled,
lived three miles from the nearest road and had already completed the eighth grade were excluded from
attending school. To enforce the law parents who did not send their children to public school were fined
and faced 30 days in jail. The initiative also targeted parochial schools, specifically Catholic schools,
because the thought was that such parochial schools hindered assimilation. Since the Society of Sisters
worked with mainly orphaned and disadvantaged children they challenged the fairness of the Act.
The Society of Sisters was an Oregon corporation, organized in 1880, with power to care
for orphans, educate and instruct the youth, establish and maintain academies or schools, and
acquire necessary real and personal property. The Society's bill alleges that the enactment
conflicts with the right of parents to choose schools where their children will receive appropriate
mental and religious training, the right of the child to influence the parents' choice of a school,
the right of schools and teachers therein to engage in a useful business or profession, and is
accordingly repugnant to the Constitution and void. And, further, that, unless enforcement of the
measure is enjoined the corporation's business and property will suffer irreparable injury.
JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The challenged Act, effective September 1, 1926, requires every parent, guardian or other
person having control or charge or custody of a child between eight and sixteen years to send
him "to a public school for the period of time a public school shall be held during the current
year" in the district where the child resides, and failure so to do is declared a misdemeanor. The
manifest purpose is to compel general attendance at public schools by normal children, between
eight and sixteen, who have not completed the eighth grade. And without doubt enforcement of
the statute would seriously impair, perhaps destroy, the profitable features of appellees' business
and greatly diminish the value of their property.
The Society's bill alleges that the enactment conflicts with the right of parents to choose
schools where their children will receive appropriate mental and religious training, the right of
the child to influence the parents' choice of a school, the right of schools and teachers therein to
engage in a useful business or profession, and is accordingly repugnant to the Constitution and
void. And, further, that, unless enforcement of the measure is enjoined the corporation's business
and property will suffer irreparable injury.
No question is raised concerning the power of the State reasonably to regulate all schools,
to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require that all children of
proper age attend some school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic
disposition, that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that
nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare.
Under the doctrine of Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, we think it entirely plain that the
Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the
upbringing and education of children under their control: as often heretofore pointed out, rights
guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable
relation to some purpose within the competency of the State. The fundamental theory of liberty
upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to
standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The
child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the
right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.
The Society’s suit against Pierce was successful in establishing that the parents and
guardians of students had a right to choose their children’s educational setting. The ruling set the
precedent for parents’ right to choose privately run schools and relieved parents from being
forced, through penalties, to have their children educated in public schools.