"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;
OK, now I'm sure you want to know just how I can connect the title of this piece with the First Amendment. Well, that's a fairly long story, and even for me this may turn into a very long post. But please stick with me. It does have a point, and hopefully an eventual conclusion(though probably not in this post)or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
As some of you may know, I have a 13 year old daughter, she's a freshman in high school this year. But this story actually starts 3 years ago. She had been on her school's Flag Team in her 6th grade year. But because of the financial crisis and the California Legislature both cutting back on the amount Calif schools received under the 40% of the budget law, and just flat out not paying the schools the complete amount owed them, the flag team was one of the things cut from her school, along with the school's ability to cover the costs of almost all of the Middle School's extra curricular activities.
In steps the YMCA. Now this is a good thing right? Well, not necessarily...The YMCA has a grant from the Federal Government to provide after school activities to kids. So far so good, that does seem to be something right up the YMCA's alley. So where's the beef?
To start none of the kids, or their parents were informed that these extra-curricular activities are no longer school functions(these are YMCA "teams"). Nor are they being treated as non-school functions. All the paperwork came through the schools, and the only mention of the YMCA's involvement was that the kids in after school sports were required to attend the daily after school YMCA program. OK, not a bad thing you say? Hopefully the kids would be getting help with their homework, or possibly tutoring, or some such? No, to my knowledge no child has received help with their homework(which is probably a good thing, as the YMCA has no one qualified to teach these kids) But at least they do have a place to sit and do their homework. Yeah...in a room with 50+ other kids ranging in age from 6 to 15...
Back to my daughter. Since they weren't going to have the Flag Team, she decided that she'd try out for the Cheerleading Squad during her 7th grade year. Once again, all the paperwork came through the school, and at no point was anyone made aware that it was not a school team. The kid's uniforms were in school colors, they performed at school functions such as pep rallies for "spirit" and for the "school" teams before games, the teams were given their school's name, etc.
The YMCA was charging the kids (OK, parents!) a fee in violation of California State Law( Hartzell vs Connell ). Which states that no child in a California Public School program may be charge fees to participate in a school function, including extra-curricular activities. The school was attempting to get around this rule by saying a) they would cover the fees for anyone who couldn't afford it(paperwork to prove that please!)despite the law stating no California student can be charged, or b) that the programs were NOT a school function...
So we paid $250. for her cheer uniform(which is a "chargeable" expense under State law, as you keep the uniform)(she wore it approximately 4 times, as you will soon read) and I refused to pay their $200. fee for "instruction".
Then the 1st day of school rolls around. The school, as any parent in the California school system knows sends home a giant(and I mean giant!) packet of forms to fill out. School rules, district rules, emergency contact pages, etc. Amongst them is the paperwork informing me my daughter is automatically enrolled in the YMCA after school program as a part of taking part in the school's Cheer Squad. And another giving my permission to ignore California Law that every child on a school bus for a school function needs a specific permission slip for each trip(and where it will be to, and the hours they intend to be gone). I did not sign that "permission slip", in fact stated on it that they would have to follow California Law and provide a permission slip for each trip.
And then I got on the phone about the YMCA after school program. First I called the school, and was told to contact the lady in charge of the YMCA program. When I informed the lady that my daughter was not going to be taking part in the after school program, she immediately got huffy and informed me that every kid in my daughter's school's "sports" program had to make the YMCA their FIRST priority (Turns out the Y gets more money for every kid in their after school program!). I informed this mis-informed lady that the YMCA was not, would not be and can not be the "first priority" of any California Public School child! I then informed her I was not going to subject a 10 year old to a 10 hour day so she could be a part of the Y's program and that my daughter's first priority was school(which was why she wanted to be on the school's cheer team) and after that she was involved with swimming and ballet. To attend the Y's program would have meant she would have to leave the house every morning before 7:30 and not get home until after 7pm. The lady then backed off(funny thing about that...) But it didn't end there.
The Cheer Squad performed for the school at their 3rd period "spirit rally" the second week of school, then cheered at the school a week later for the after school football game. Then two weeks later on the day of the week the Cheer Squad was always supposed to wear their uniforms to school(same day they're supposed to practice after school), my daughter called me about 1/2 hr before school got out to tell me she was over at the other Middle School in our town(sans permission slip AND without the YMCA covering the words "School Bus" on the buses in violation of State law(again!)). The Cheer Squad and football team had all been loaded up on the bus and taken over there to play the other school. AAARGH!
But, it gets worse! The main reason I didn't want my daughter to have to attend the YMCA after school program was that she belonged to a private swim team here in the area (private in that it had nothing to do with the schools) That meant she swam 3 to 4 days a week in practice and then attended swim meets as they occurred. Surprise! That afternoon was a swim meet!
Now it would have worked quite well, although it would have been a very busy afternoon! The swim meet started at 5 o'clock and was just across the street from the school at the city pool. As they were finishing up their cheering at about 4:45, and gathered around their "adult" leader, my daughter informed her she had to leave by 5 til to make her swim meet. The "lady" then started screaming at my daughter that the YMCA had to be her 1st priority...she continued to scream at her until my daughter walked off to meet me at the car about 50' away. She told me what happened (as if I hadn't seen it!) and then said she was quitting Cheer (I wonder why???) And we went on over to her swim meet.
Well, at that point I let the whole thing drop. I know, I know, you still want me to tie my post title into the First Amendment and after school programs. (I told you this would be long...) Although I was not in the least bit happy that an outside organization was forcing kids in a California Public School to make that organization the kid's "first priority", I let it drop, as my daughter was no longer on the school's cheer team, and it seemed no one at the school or district wanted to change it, as it meant the school did not have to cover the costs of the kid's extra-curricular activities. It didn't affect my daughter's grades in any way, so I let it drop...
YES! I am finally getting to the whore part!!
This year my daughter started high school, they get to sign up for classes they want out of a list of what's required to graduate. One of the courses required is Biology. The school offers two Biology courses which both meet the requirement for graduation, and there are no prerequisites to be in either class. Of the two classes, the Ag Biology course sounded more interesting than the plain Biology course to my daughter and several of her friends. She and they signed up for the Ag Biology.
Just one minor problem here. As a student in a public school taking that course they find out on the first day of school that they are forced to be members of an outside organization, the FFA, or Future Farmers of America. It's a great organization, but that is entirely beside the point. Somehow not only the school, but the entire state education department thinks it's OK to make California Public School students automatically members of an organization that they never asked to join, and if the kids do not take part in the FFA it affects their grade!
Apparently California has never heard of the First Amendment where you get to associate (or not associate) voluntarily.
So, you ask how does this affect the kids grade? Well 20% of the grade is what's called "FFA" points. These include selling flower arrangements to support the FFA charity of the month, working FFA fundraisers, and attending FFA meetings. So, in other words, you can buy 20% of your kid's grade just by buying flower arrangements!
So, what is the school getting out of this arrangement? The State(public tax money!) is paying an additional $8. for every student enrolled in an Ag course!(they sell your kids cheap!)
So, there will be more in this saga, as I currently have three civil rights attorneys putting it all together for me to sue the State. But to recap, the Schools are selling your kids right to free association(or NOT to associate) to both the YMCA and The Future Farmer's of America. Both are wonderful organizations, but neither have the right in a California Public School to tell your kid's they will be your kid's first priority, or that they have to "volunteer" to help support any outside group.
I'll keep ya posted on the lawsuit!