David Pedry, a Caspar, Wyo., geologist, discovered some things about his local school district that he didn't like.
His daughter had been asked to read Judy Blume novels, which Pedry considers "secular-humanist pornographic garbage for kids." Then he found out that teachers had set up a suicide prevention workshop, which Pedry feared would allow teachers to determine whether his daughter could be suicidal.
Pedry petitioned the governor, seeking an investigation. He appealed to local school board members. He withdrew his daughter from school and started teaching her at home. Last week, he announced that he would ask the Education Department to intervene.
"We think something rotten is going on," said Pedry, who formed a Wyoming chapter of Coalition of Concerned Parents About Privacy Rights in Public Schools. "We're actively trying to get the word out about the Hatch Amendment."
Since regulations implementing the amendment took effect last November, the department has received six formal complaints from parents who have cited the amendment.
The amendment prohibits schools from conducting psychological tests on students without parental consent.
Conservative groups, encouraged by the public comments of Education Secretary William J. Bennett, view it as a last-ditch effort to regain parental control over what children are taught. Teachers and school board members see it as a vehicle for unprecedented governmental intrusion into the classroom and a threat to academic freedom.
When the rules took effect last year, some critics had anticipated that the department would be forced to handle a flood of complaints. But that hasn't happened, according to Monika Harrison, a special assistant at the department who monitors the cases.
"It's only a small number in comparison to the exaggerations made earlier on," she said. "I never expected to have thousands."
But Thomas A. Shannon, executive director of the National School Board Association, representing the nation's 97,000 school board members, said, "We think one complaint is too many . . . . It might be six complaints now, it might be 600 complaints next year.
"We think it has the effect of intimidating school administrators and school boards," he said.
Of the six cases received, two were from school districts in Iowa, one was from New Jersey, one from Kansas, one from Washington state and one from Indiana.
The department closed three of the cases because of technicalities, without judging the merits of the complaints. In one case, for example, the program in question did not receive federal funding, a condition that must be met under the regulations before the federal government can intervene.
Harrison identified two of the three pending cases as a complaint about a health class and one about a class on parenting.
In the case of the health class, the students were asked to fill out questionnaires that asked for detailed information about their families -- information that at least one parent thought might be embarrassing.
Similarly, in the parenting class, students had been asked questions about their family and home life such as whether they would be allowed to return home if they became pregnant.
The amendment does not prohibit schools from offering certain kinds of classes or teachers from discussing certain subjects. Rather, it states that parents must be allowed to decide whether their children may participate in "a group activity that is not directly related to academic instruction and that is designed to elicit information about attitudes, habits, traits, opinions, beliefs or feelings."
Harrison said she receives several calls each day from parents who have a complaint, but more often than not she directs them to exhaust local avenues of appeal before asking the department to become involved.
Typically, she said, a parent has a complaint about a specific action that occurred in a specific class. By the time the complaint is formally processed at the federal level, she said, the class or the objectionable assignment might be over.
"We don't want to be in the business of resolving what should be state and local problems," Harrison said.
Critics say much the same thing. "The idea that the federal department has set up a process which essentially stands in judgment of local school boards goes too far," said Shannon of the school board association. "They are constantly talking about trust. They are constantly talking about local determination."
Still, parents like Pedry see the federal government -- and the Hatch Amendment -- as a court of last resort.
"I think something sinister is going on," he said. "It's going on all over the country. It sounds like Russia to me."