The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed a lower court's decision to order an 11-year-old out of homeschooling and into a public school.
The three-justice panel ruled in favor of divorced father Martin Kurowski, who argued that homeschooling prevents "adequate socialization" for his daughter. The justices asserted in the court opinion that they were not choosing sides among the various forms of education.
"While [the case] involves home schooling, it is not about the merits of home verses public schooling," they stated.
The justices also noted that homeschooling "has become a widely used alternative to more traditional public or private schools as the vehicle for education children" in recent years.
"Courts have neither the mandate nor the expertise to determine from among these options which generally provides the most suitable education," they said.
Homeschooling advocates praised the New Hampshire Supreme Court for adopting language that does not set a negative precedent for other homeschoolers and for recognizing that homeschooling is a viable education option in lieu of public and private schooling.
The Home School Legal Defense Association, nevertheless, expressed disappointment that the high court upheld a 2009 decision ordering mother Brenda Voydatch to enroll her daughter Amanda Kurowski into a public school rather than continue to homeschooled.
"We are disappointed that this young girl is being forced to attend a public school over her mother's, and reportedly her own, wishes," said Michael Donnelly, HSLDA's attorney for Member Affairs, in a statement.
He continued, "However, the NH Supreme Court confined its ruling to this case and these facts avoiding any collateral impact on the rights of other parents in New Hampshire who homeschool their children."
Donnelly noted that previous decisions "have been read to create a presumption in favor of public education over homeschooling."
In a 2009 hearing, Judge Lucinda V. Sadler ruled that the daughter be enrolled in public school after the fact-finding group Guardian ad Litem found that the religious nature of her education limited her exposure to other views.
Voydatch, who divorced from Kurowski in 1999, is a Christian and chose to include a Bible class in the child's education.
However, according to court documents, Voydatch also taught her daughter math, reading, English, social studies, science, handwriting and spelling using curriculum "comparable to the public school curriculum at the same age." She also allowed her daughter to take private music lessons and attend a monthly theater class and weekly classes in art, Spanish and physical education at a public school.
Despite Voydatch's efforts, her ex-husband complained in court that Amanda was not receiving "adequate socialization."
GAL found that the daughter's strong alignment with the mother's beliefs "limited" her opportunity to experience situations that are socially challenging, and that Amanda "would be best served by exposure to different points of view."
Voydatch testified that she urged the GAL investigator to review some homeschooling literature. However, Voydatch said the investigator refused, stating "it's all Christian-based. I don't want to hear it."
Sadler responded to these claims in her brief, saying that she did not consider the merits of Voydatch's beliefs in her ruling.
But she stated, "[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."
Donnelly believes Sadler's ruling was "fairly negative to home education." HSLDA filed an amicus brief when the case was appealed to the state Supreme Court urging it to narrow the scope of its findings.
The high court stated in its opinion that the trial court did not exceed its "discretion" when it issued the order, requiring Amanda to enroll in public school. The justices also noted that the case was about deciding a dispute between two parents who have continually disagreed about their daughter's education, and nothing more than that.
"While this case has religious overtones, it is not about religion. While it involves home schooling, it is not about the merits of home versus public schooling. This case is only about resolving a dispute between two parents, with equal constitutional parenting rights and joint decision-making responsibility, who have been unable to agree how to best educate daughter."
John Anthony Simmons, the Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney in the case, expressed appreciation that the Supreme Court "limited its decision to the facts of this case."
But he still maintains that the lower court considered the mother and daughter's religion when deciding the case.
"Parents have a fundamental right to make educational choices for their children. Courts can settle disputes, but they cannot legitimately order a child into a government-run school on the basis that her religious views need to be mixed with other views. That's precisely what the lower court admitted it was doing," he said.
"The lower court held the Christian faith of this mother and daughter against them. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court bypassed this issue and wrote this off as a 'parent versus parent' issue without recognizing the very real underlying threat to religious liberty."