No Constitutional Violation When Public School Employees Urge Child to (Lawfully) Leave Parents’ Home at Age 17, and Offer Help and Even Foster Parenting

That’s what Reardom v. Midland Community Schools (E.D. Mich. Sept. 2, 2011) holds. As I mentioned in the post below, Michigan law lets 17-year-olds leave their parents’ home; plaintiffs alleged that the daughter didn’t just leave on her own, but was urged to do that by her teachers, who went so far as to offer to be foster parents for the daughter (though then decided against it), and offered her various kinds of help:

The activities [former teacher and media specialist] Stevens is alleged to have engaged in included:

(a) on April 17, 2010, advising S. to develop an exit strategy, such as by slowly removing her things from her home, “a little at a time” and taking them to her boyfriend’s home;
(b) on April 17, 2010, suggesting that S. apply for a Personal Protection Order against her parents;
(c) on April 17, 2010, suggesting that she obtain a legal foster relationship over S. so that she can “get money to help you;”
(d) on April 8, 2010, offering a foster parent relationship over S.;
(e) on April 8, 2010, advising S. to contact her through school email so that her mother “can’t get that info;”
(f) on April 8, 2010, advising S. to consult with her boyfriend and his father [who is an attorney] about getting “help,” when she knew or should have known that S.’s relationship with her boyfriend was a point of contention with S.’s parents;
(g) telling S. that she will obtain a phone for her that her mother could not access;
(h) telling S. that “most parents of teens do not read their children’s email, text messages, etc.”
(i) promising S. a place to live at her home where she will “have privacy. NO one is going to check your email, voicemail, text messages. I think you will find it much more relaxed than what you are used to.”
(j) supplying S. with money[.]

The activities [guidance counselor] Faust is alleged to have engaged in included:

(a) In response to [Plaintiffs’] concern about changes that S. made to her school schedule, privately telling S. that her mother was inquiring about her schedule;
(b) purchasing contact lenses for S.;
(c) excusing S.’s many absences from school;
(d) setting himself up as the “facilitator” between S. and her parents so that S. could obtain things she needed from them without interacting with them;
(e) whisking S. away from her mother at the National Honor Society Induction ceremony, to shield S. from her mother and prevent S. from having contact with her mother[;]
(f) suggesting that S. stop seeing the counselor/therapist that had been working with her and [Plaintiffs], and providing “counseling” himself.

E-mails in the record support many of these allegations. The court concluded, though, that Stevens’ and Faust’s actions didn’t violate the parents’ constitutional rights to control the upbringing of their child:

Nothing in the Constitution prohibits school teachers or counselors from counseling students, nor does it require that the teachers and counselors obtain parental consent about the character of their counseling in the context of the facts alleged in this instance….

Plaintiff’s complaint and the evidence in the record demonstrate that after S. came to Stevens and Faust for assistance, Stevens and Faust “advised” S., “suggested” various solutions to the problems she presented, offered financial assistance, and provided counseling to help S. address the problems she perceived with her parents. Their conduct did not violate Plaintiffs’ due process rights …..

Note that it’s possible that parents might still have viable state-law claims against the teachers, perhaps under some tort theory of intentional interference with familial relations, but the court didn’t pass on that theory.