Group Asks Court to Reconsider Removing Girl from Home School
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
By Joshua Rhett Miller
A New Hampshire court’s decision to order a 10-year-old home-schooled girl to attend public school is coming under attack from some social conservatives and religious freedom advocates.
The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based organization that seeks to preserve religious liberty and the sanctity of marriage, has asked a family court judge to reconsider her July 14 decision to send the girl, identified in court documents as “Amanda,” to a public school in Meredith, N.H.
“Parents have the fundamental rights to raise their children to the dictates of their conscience,” the organization’s attorney John Anthony Simmons told FOXNews.com.
Simmons noted that the girl was described in court documents as “academically promising” and interactive with her peers. “The court, in its own order, recognized this girl is performing well academically. So why are we changing her school environment?” he asked.
The girl’s parents, Brenda Voydatch and Martin Kurowski, divorced shortly after her birth in 1999. According to court documents, Kurowski wants his daughter to attend public schools because he believes home-schooling deprives her of socialization skills. A guardian ad litem, essentially a fact finder for the court, agreed, and that recommendation was approved by Judge Lucinda Sadler.
“[E]ducation is by its nature an exploration and examination of new things,” the court order read. “[A] child requires academic, social, cultural, and physical interaction with a variety of experiences, people, concepts, and surroundings in order to grow to an adult who can make intelligent decisions about how to achieve a productive and satisfying life.”
But Simmons says the court has effectively taken away Voydatch’s right, as the girl’s primary-custody parent, to make decisions regarding her future, despite the fact that she enrolled the girl in three public school courses to assuage concerns of her former husband.
“It is not the proper role of the court to insist that [the girl] be ‘exposed to different points of view’ if the primary residential parent has determined that it is in Amanda’s best interest not to be exposed to secular influences that would undermine [the girl’s] faith, schooling, social development, etc.,” Simmons wrote in court documents.
He says the court erred by agreeing with the guardian ad litem’s assessment that the girl was found to “lack some youthful characteristics,” in part because she “appeared to reflect her mother’s rigidity on question of faith,” according to court documents.
“The line that the court crossed here is saying that you’re too sincere in your religious beliefs,” Simmons said. “That’s the concern here.”
But Kurowski’s attorney, Elizabeth Donovan, said the ruling was based on the girl’s isolated learning environment, and not on her mother’s religion. She said the girl’s home-schooling consists of “sitting in the corner of her mother’s bedroom,” where she receives her lessons on a computer screen.
“My client is concerned because of the isolation that is borne of that and the lack of exposure to the broader culture at large,” Donovan said. “People of different heritage, people of different culture, tolerance, group problem-solving, making friends, losing friends all of the things that come with a public school education.”
Donovan said Kurkowski has previously taken the girl to church and has no objections to her exposure to religion.
“When two parents with joint decision-making responsibility disagree and they cannot come to any common ground, we submit it to the court,” she said. “The court takes all the testimony and the court renders a decision. Mrs. Voydatch didn’t like the decision.”
Simmons said he is prepared to appeal the case in state Supreme Court if the judge does not reconsider her ruling.
“This is a situation where home schooling is doing just fine,” Simmons said. “We’re asking for the court to reconsider.”
Rob Reich, a political science and ethics professor at Stanford University who has written several papers on home-schooling, said Kurkowski’s wishes for his daughter’s education should be considered.
“His preference, as a general matter, ought to count for something,” Reich told FOXNews.com. “It would be peculiar not to attribute any standings to the preferences of the father. It just so happens in this case you can’t split the difference down the middle.”
But Herb London, president of the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank, said the New Hampshire court has “overstepped itself” in the case.
“I don’t see why her faith should have any bearing at all on the decision made by the court,” London told FOXNews.com. “The fact that she is a devoted Christian should not in any way influence the court’s decision.”
The ruling reflects a “radical secularism” of sorts, where any public display of religion is considered to be “wrongheaded,” London said. “With sufficient pressure, [the court] will have to reconsider. It’s really inappropriate for it to be making decisions of this kind.”
Mike Donnelly, a staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said he’s hopeful the “inappropriate and unreasonable” ruling will be reconsidered.
“The court has taken a step too far,” Donnelly said, adding that the ruling appears to be “hostility against home schooling or religion or both.”