Texas school district’s policy requiring visitors to its schools to submit to a sex offender background check does not violate parents’ constitutional right to direct their children’s education
In a brief unpublished per curiam decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (LA, MS, TX) has ruled unanimously that a school district’s policy requiring all visitors to its schools to undergo an electronic sex offender background check before obtaining access to the school does not violate parents’ Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right to direct their children’s education. The panel alternatively concluded that even if parents have a fundamental right to access all areas of their child’s school, the policy passed constitutional muster because the school district has a compelling interest in determining if a visitor is a registered sex offender and the policy is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.
The suit resulted from a dispute between a parent and school officials at Bee Cave Elementary School (BCES). Yvonne Meadows was denied access to her children’s school activities without first giving school officials her driver’s license when checking-in at the front office. Meadows refused to provide school officials with her driver’s license or disclose her date of birth so that they might run a sex offender background check pursuant to Lake Travis Independent School District (LTISD) policy. As a result, she was denied access to secured areas of the school without an escort. Meadows filed suit in federal district court against LTISD and BCES Principal Janie Braxdale, after resort to the school district’s grievance process proved unsuccessful. The suit raised claims based on the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. In addition, it contained a number of state law claims. The district court granted LTISD’s motion for summary judgment, holding that parents do not have unfettered Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights to access their children’s classrooms. It found that if parents refuse to comply with the school’s check-in procedures they may legally be denied access to certain in-school areas.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. Its analysis focused on the parents’ claim that the policy violates their substantive due process right to direct their children’s education. Conceding that parents do have a constitutional right to direct their children’s education, which is secured by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, it stressed that the parents had failed to provide any caselaw “that this right extends so far as to include the unfettered right of a parent to visit all areas of a school campus while students are present.” Even assuming unfettered access was a fundamental right of parents, the panel continued, the policy would pass strict scrutiny. It found that LTISD had a compelling government interest in protecting students by determining if a visitor is a registered sex offender prior to allowing that visitor unfettered access to all areas of its schools. It concluded that the policy was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest because the electronic system used by LTISD “takes only the minimum information necessary to determine sex-offender status, identify the visitor, and ensure the lack of false positives.” It also rejected the parents’ procedural due process, First Amendment, and privacy claims.
Lastly, the panel upheld the district court’s taxing the parents $4,832.81 in costs. The costs were not unreasonable and the district court had acted well within its discretion in awarding them to LTISD.
Meadows v. Lake Travis Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 09-50850 (5th Cir. Sept. 8, 2010)
[Editor's Note: NSBA, along with the Texas Association of School Boards Legal Assistance Fund, submitted an amicus brief in support of LTISD. The brief made two main arguments: (1) parents have no constitutional right to physical access to a school building; and (2) the district's policy passes constitutional muster because it serves the compelling interest in determining if a visitor is a registered sex offender and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. The brief is available at the first link below.
A summary of the district court's opinion, with links to additional background, is available at the second link below.]