Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Hampshire Court orders Christian homeschooled girl to attend public school

Pete Chagnon - OneNewsNow - 8/26/2009

A Christian homeschool girl in New Hampshire has been ordered into government-run public school for having "sincerely held" religious beliefs -- and the Alliance Defense Fund is troubled by the ruling.

The case involves divorced couple Martin Kurowski and Brenda Voydatch and their 10-year-old daughter, Amanda. The couple split in 1999 when they were living in Massachusetts, and the proceedings moved to New Hampshire after Voydatch relocated to that state with her daughter in 2002.
Although Voydatch has primary custody over Amanda, both parents agreed to a parenting plan that included joint decision-making responsibility. A court-appointed guardian served as a mediator.
A source of contention between the parents has been the mother's decision to home school Amanda since first grade. Amanda's father believes she should be sent to public school, while the mother is adamant about home schooling. Since both parents have failed to reach common ground, the issue moved to the court.
The situation was then analyzed by the court-appointed guardian, who made a recommendation to the court. During the evaluation process it was determined that Amanda was excelling in her schooling and used curriculum that was approved by her school district. The curriculum used in her home schooling was created by certified teachers, and Amanda routinely took standardized tests.
Furthermore, Amanda attended her local public school to take art, Spanish, and P.E. classes. Her public school instructors also commented on the fact that Amanda was well-rounded in her social skills. But a sticking point arose concerning Voydatch's Christian faith.
The court order stated: "According to the guardian ad litem's further report and testimony, the counselor found Amanda to lack some youthful characteristics. She appeard to reflect her mother's rigidity on questions of faith." The guardian noted that during a counseling session, Amanda tried to witness to the counselor and appeared "visibly upset" when the counselor purposefully did not pay attention.
The guardian also noted that Amanda's relationship with her father suffered because she did not think he loved her as much as he said he did due to the fact that he refused to "adopt her religious beliefs."
According to the court order, the guardian concluded that Amanda's "interests, and particularly her intellectual and emotional development, would be best served by exposure to a public school setting in which she would be challenged to solve problems presented by a group learning situation and...Amanda would be best served by exposure to different points of view at a time in her life when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief and behavior."

Furthermore the court order states that despite Amanda's mother insisting that her daughter's religious beliefs were her own, "it would be remarkable if a ten-year-old child who spends her school time with her mother and the vast majority of all her other time with her mother would seriously consider adopting any other religious point of view."
Although the court noted that it "is extremely reluctant to impose on parents a decision about a child's education," it ruled that Amanda must attend public school.
Alliance Defense Fund-allied attorney John Anthony Simmons has filed a motion to reconsider. He says this ruling is dangerous to home schoolers because it will set a precedent for other cases.
"Every time you have a court order that uses a wrong standard or misapplies constitutional law, everyone's rights are eventually at stake," the attorney explains. "Because what happens with precedent is it gets expanded -- it gets cited in other cases."
Simmons believes this case goes beyond the initial divorce and custody battle with this ruling because the standard used in the decision contained in the court order is troubling. He contends that the child's religion should not have played a role in the decision, and that the court should have focused solely on the academic merits of Amanda's education which proved to be excellent.


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