• Fathers' Rights Victory in Massachusetts

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    A determined
    father in Massachusetts has delivered an early Father’s Day gift
    to non-custodial parents, the overwhelming majority of whom are

    Dr. Henry M.
    Fassler has successfully contested a 1998
    Massachusetts law
    that requires a non-custodial parent to have
    court certification as a non-batterer on a yearly basis before he
    (or she) is allowed access to their children’s school records. The
    school system currently views all non-custodial parents as guilty
    of battery until proven innocent. But all that is going to change.

    The specifics
    of Fassler’s case
    : he wanted to see the academic class list
    for his 17-year-old daughter Lindsay, who had asked him for help.
    No charge or complaint had ever been filed against Fassler; he is
    on good terms with his ex-wife and children.

    When the school
    refused the class list, Fassler not only got angry, he also got
    active. Last October, he complained to the Family Policy Compliance
    Office at the U.S. Department of Education, challenging the statute
    as discriminatory. On May 6, the DOE sent a letter to Massachusetts’
    Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll, which warned that “the
    commonwealth and every school district in Massachusetts is in violation
    of federal law, and has been for years.”

    The letter
    explained, “non-custodial parents cannot be denied access to school
    records unless there is evidence those ‘rights have been specifically
    revoked’.” The government cannot stand between parent and child
    when no evidence of abuse is present.

    Father’s rights
    advocates had fought against the law since its passage. (Indeed,
    Fassler belongs to Fathers
    and Families
    , a leading voice in that battle.) Suddenly, however,
    with millions in federal funding at stake, Driscoll has
    that a “new policy” will treat divorced parents more

    The struggle
    in Massachusetts for non-custodial rights offers both hope and lessons
    to divorced parents across North America.

    One lesson
    is cautionary: even well-intended laws can be hijacked and used
    for unintended political purposes. This one fact alone should prejudice
    reformers in favor of repealing bad laws rather than stacking the
    new ones ever higher.

    According to
    Fassler, the 1998 statute was first pushed by father’s advocates
    who wanted to clarify their parental right to school records. Then,
    anti-domestic violence groups – especially a Boston-based victims
    advocacy group, Jane Doe Inc.
    (JDI) – amended the measure to make a distinction between custodial
    and non-custodial parents. Fassler claims the changes converted
    the statute into an “abuse-prevention bill” that discriminated against
    the very fathers who suggested it.

    JDI has a history
    of receiving large tax-funded contracts to handle the training and
    other assistance necessary to implement anti-abuse programs in Massachusetts;
    it seems natural to assume that JDI wielded influence over the policy-makers
    with whom it has established a long and remunerative partnership.
    Nancy Scannell of JDI helped to draft the statute.

    By contrast,
    the father’s rights advocates against whom JDI is often
    consist almost entirely of volunteers.

    This is another
    lesson from the Massachusetts struggle. Grassroots organizations
    and actions can prevail over generously tax-funded agencies, but
    it is crucial to “follow the money.” The crusade against the 1998
    statute won out only when Fassler called federal funding into question.

    But following
    the money means more than this; the tax-funding of JDI should be
    tracked and made public. As taxpayers, fathers have a right to know
    how such funds are dispensed and to expose any political bias in
    the granting of contracts.

    Moreover, any
    organization that will profit from a legislative measure should
    be excluded from drafting it. The exclusion is important. The Boston
    Globe quotes Scannell as saying she “will eagerly participate in
    any discussion to rewrite the bill.” If the “non-profit” JDI will
    eagerly cash checks based on such a rewrite, then JDI should not
    shape its language.

    Yet, despite
    words of caution, the news from Massachusetts is heartening. Non-custodial
    parents will no longer be viewed as abusive until proven innocent.
    Fathers can play a greater role in their children’s academic lives.

    Radio host
    Glenn Sacks, who campaigned against the 1998 statute, explains the
    importance of a father’s presence. “As a former high school teacher…I
    could teach a class for a few weeks and then have a pretty good
    idea which kids had fathers in their lives and which ones didn’t.
    I had few discipline problems…but I always knew that there was
    one truly effective way to get an errant boy to change his ways – call
    his dad and explain…that he needs to leave work and come to the
    school to talk to me about his son’s behavior. It was 100 percent

    That option
    may now be available to all of Massachusetts’ teachers, parents,
    and children.

    2, 2005

    McElroy [send her mail]
    is the editor of ifeminists.com
    and a research fellow for The
    Independent Institute
    in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
    editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
    for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

    (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

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