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Making a Good Bill Bad

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The Question is: Why?

By Carolee Adams, President, Eagle Forum of New Jersey

In 2001, former NJ State Assemblyman Scott Garrett (now Congressman R-5) and State Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-39) worked with Eagle Forum of New Jersey, Ridgewood parents, and others to stop nosy, intrusive student surveying of their children without “written, informed, parental consent”. That meant a parent had to, not only be “notified” of such surveys that could be administered to their children, but to be able to review that survey in advance and signify, in writing, with their signature, if they approved or not. It’s as simple as that – akin to a parent giving written consent for a school trip after being satisfactorily advised about the complete details of that trip.

However, over and over again since the 2002-3 legislative session, state legislators have sought to remove “written, informed, parental consent” from the exceptional language used in the 2001 Bill reverting back to only “notification”. “Notification” only used pre-2001 was the reason why “written, informed, parental consent“ was sought! Ridgewood parents claimed they never received “notification”; would never have signed off on such a survey had they been able to review it; and they justifiably sued – twice – and won based upon violations of a student’s rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and even Fourteenth Amendments.

In testimony, among many other factors presented in writing, I reminded Assembly Education committee members of those historic suits, and how costly to local Boards of Education and the State should a parent claim s/he did not receive notification and, consequently, did not grant express written permission. Even though one Assemblyman claimed how he wanted more “proactive” parental involvement, all but one Committee member was, obviously, foolishly satisfied or unconcerned with the sponsors’ assurance of “notification” only.

Further, and not publicly aired, in private conversation with one Republican Assembly member of the committee, an aid commented to me that Municipal Alliances favored the Bill; they needed money for their drug/alcohol abuse programs, etc. When I responded: “Do you mean you would disrespect parental rights and sacrifice a student’s privacy for money,” she and her Assembly member walked away from me prior to a vote of “yes” to approve the Bill and move it out of Committee. Only Assemblyman Scott Rumana voted “No”.

This sociological strip search has now been amended so that it will, supposedly, not be used for marketing or other commercial purposes unrelated to education or include sexual behavior or attitudes. However, the Bill and its amendments, in addition to removing written parental consent, does NOT eliminate: -questions about guns in homes nor questions that, in the past, could actually incriminate a student by his admittance of illegal drug use; -does not account for students’ lying on surveys that a Ridgewood psychiatrist had attested to occurring in the past nor recall a breach of anonymity where teachers were able to decipher who completed the survey; -does not consider how such surveying can lead young, impressionable students to question their own behavior/lack of drug and alcohol use in comparison to others who do.

In the past, the results of such surveys led to referrals and/or programs such as Columbia University’s Teen Screen, a controversial, so-called “diagnostic psychiatric service”, a/k/a suicide survey, done on children who are then referred to psychiatric treatment or programs within a school setting. The evidence suggests that the objective of the psychiatrists who designed TeenScreen was to place children so selected on psychotropic drugs. Last year, Teen Screen ceased operation following increasing scrutiny about its methods and affiliations. Dr. Marcia Angell, physician, and author, “The Truth About Drug Companies”, is the first woman to serve as editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine; was honored by Time Magazine as one of America’s most influential Americans; and is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Describing such programs, Dr. Angell stated: “It’s just a way to put more people on prescription drugs.” She said such programs would boost the sale of antidepressants even after the FDA ordered a “black box” label warning that the pills might spur suicidal thoughts or violent actions in minors. Note: New Jersey’s A2421/S454, does not preclude questions about suicide, either.

The bottom line to those who support A2421/S454 is money. The bottom line to those who oppose this legislation is to continue to protect a student’s right to privacy from such a sociological strip search, and ensure parental approval via the original language – not merely “notification” – but “written, informed, parental consent”.

Now is the time to contact your State Assembly representatives and Governor Christie to ask them to oppose A2421/S454.  Governor Christie may have the opportunity to encourage members of his party to vote “No” and, should the Bill come before him if it passes the Assembly, to Veto the legislation in its entirety. A conditional Veto is not acceptable.


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