Friday, March 13, 2009

Homeschoolers - Let's Not Get Hysterical About Media Reports

With regard to the media making hay out of homeschooler divorce court case in North Carolina (also read it here), can we all just please calm down a bit? Let's examine this case. This is what was reported:
A judge in Wake County said three Raleigh children need switch from home school to public school. Judge Ned Mangum is presiding over divorce proceeding of the children's parents, Thomas and Venessa Mills.

Venessa Mills was in the fourth year of home schooling her children who are 10, 11 and 12 years old. They have tested two years above their grade levels, she said.

"We have math, reading; we have grammar, science, music,” Venessa Mills said.

Her lessons also have a religious slant, which the judge said was the root of the problem.

"My teaching is strictly out of the Bible, and it's very clear. It is very evident so I just choose to follow the Bible,” Venessa Mills said.

In an affidavit filed Friday in the divorce case, Thomas Mills stated that he "objected to the children being removed from public school." He said Venessa Mills decided to home school after getting involved with Sound Doctrine church "where all children are home schooled."

Thomas Mills also said he was "concerned about the children's religious-based science curriculum" and that he wants "the children to be exposed to mainstream science, even if they eventually choose to believe creationism over evolution."

In a verbal ruling, Mangum said the children should go to public school.

"He was upfront and said that, 'It's not about religion.' But yet when it came down to his ruling and reasons why, 'He said this would be a good opportunity for the children to be tested in the beliefs that I have taught them,'" Venessa Mills said.

All sides agree the children have thrived with home school, and Vanessa Mills thinks that should be reason enough to continue teaching at home.

"I cannot sit back and allow this to happen to other home schoolers. I don't want it happening to my children,” Venessa Mills said.
First of all, you have to understand that this is standard in divorce's so routine that Dad immediately decides homeschooling is not in the best interest of the child when it looks like his cost will increase if Mom stays home after the divorce. This is nothing new. I am sure if you are a homeschooler that you also know of such cases. I have personally known people involved in cases such as this here in CT, and even cases were reported (see below) where Mom was told to take the child out of parochial school and place the child in public school. Why? Because of course in both cases homeschooling and parochial school will cost more in child care/alimony payments.

In the North Carolina case, the dad is picking on the homeschooling aspect of the children's education, despite the fact that these kids are obviously bright and doing well in their current situation. So why change it? All psychologists and other folks who write about kids and divorce seem to state that during divorce kids need stability - they don't need more upheaval and change int heir life. Legal folks have told me that judges will usually want to keep the status quo of what the child was doing in order to minimize the number of changes in a child's life - that is a very big issue - to keep stability.

The dad is opposed to homeschooling and bottomline this judge doesn't think that a religious education will serve these children well, and yet the kids are doing fine. So why change it?

The key here is to educate the judge that it is in the best interest of the child to remain homeschooling. But educating judges can happen in many ways (including impeachment).

Maybe we ought not only concentrate on educating legislators about homeschooling, but we have to start talking to judges in our communities as well.

It's time we remind judges on the benefits of homeschooling and the importance of stability in a child's life amidst divorce. They also have to understand that no one curriculum is superior to another and there is no one right way to educate a child.

Here is one short article that stresses the importance of keeping stability in a child's life during divorce - Divorcing Parents Urged Not To Change Child's School by Honorable Anne Kass. Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico.

Here was the other article - same issue different type of education - Back in 2004 there was an article in a CT paper, "Divorce Stirs School Debate Supreme Court Orders Review In Case Where Parents Disagreed About Child's Education" (Associated Press, September 16 2004) that read:
The state Supreme Court waded into a combustible parental-rights debate Wednesday by ordering a lower court to reconsider whether a boy whose parents are divorced should attend a public or Catholic school.

In a 4-1 ruling, the high court decided in favor of the child's father, Dennis R. Sweeney, who sued in 2002 to stop his former wife from enrolling their son, who was then 5, in a parochial school.

The technical decision found that an earlier lower court ruling in favor of the boy's mother may be appealed.

It sets up a potential precedent-setting decision by the Appellate Court that could establish a standard for Connecticut on how divorced parents with joint custody make educational decisions.

"The consequences of the enrollment of a minor child in an educational institution that a joint legal custodian believes to be academically inadequate and religiously objectionable are irreparable," the justices wrote. "The lost opportunity to have a child exposed only to academic and religious influences sanctioned by a joint legal custodian cannot be replaced by any subsequent court order."

Laura-Ann Simmons, a Stamford lawyer who represented Sweeney, said that the case could eventually expand the legal standard of what is in the best interests of the child.

Other rights "include the right to practice religion any way you deem fit," she said. "With joint custody, you have the right to dictate whether a child has religious instruction or not."

Mark Henderson, a court-appointed lawyer representing the child, said that the case "may very well break ground once it goes to the substance."

Sweeney had argued that the parochial school chosen by his former wife, Dale M. Sweeney, was "small, underfunded, lacked certification" and failed to provide information on standardized testing. He also had never agreed to religious instruction for his son, he said.

The Appellate Court rejected his appeal, ruling that the trial court's order did not fall within a category of appealable orders in family cases.

In August 2002, the Superior Court allowed Dale Sweeney to enroll the child in parochial school.

The parents, who have joint custody of the child, later agreed to place the youngster in a public school for one year. Dennis Sweeney told the Supreme Court that the schooling matter was the only remaining issue in the divorce proceedings, which both parents wanted to end quickly.

The lawyer for Dale Sweeney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In his dissent, Justice Peter Zarella said the decision did not satisfy the requirements of established legal doctrine.
It is unfortunate that control, as well as financial control, becomes a bigger part of the issue as opposed to what is best for the child. All to often what is best for the child seems to really be more about the ego and power of the parent who wants to control the terms of the divorce. At least that is what I have observed. One merely has to ask, what problems will be created for the child if more change and instability is inserted into the child's life? As if having divorcing parents isn't traumatic enough.

Most important in the equation, as expressed in the North Carolina case, is to educate the judges as to the positive outcomes of homeschooling and if the children are already doing well then they ought to be allowed to continue, no matter the extra cost to the parent paying for their care.