Saturday, March 17, 2007

A New Jersey Court's Polemic Against Unmonitored Homeschooling

An interesting article from Constitutionally Correct was forwarded to me by Scott at Providentia Blog the posting on CC links to an unpublished decision by A New Jersey court that, in the decision, was shocked, simply shocked that a mother is homeschooling her 7 children and that
no one from any Board of Education in Montclair (where they lived until October 2006) ever visited the home. Ms. Hamilton never went to any school or board office, no lesson plan was ever reviewed and no progress report or testing of the children was ever performed. This is shocking to the court.

The Court apparently expresses this dismay based on an interesting concern:
In this day and age where we seek to protect children from harm and sexual predators, so many children are left unsupervised. . . . In today’s threatening world, where we seek to protect children from abuse, not just physical, but also educational abuse, how can we not monitor the educational welfare of all our children? A child in New Jersey, who recently was found unfed and locked in a putrid bedroom was allegedly “home schooled” and because no one, such as a teacher or nurse, was able to observe any abuse in a school setting, it went undiscovered.

There was no allegation of physical or emotional abuse in this case and at most an allegation from the father that the mother was unable to educate all of their children at the appropriate level. Stretching real concerns of physical and emotional abuse of children to this court's new issue of educational abuse certainly goes too far.

The Court then goes on to state measure it would like to see the state adopt - all of them quite intrusive. This would not be proper for a Court to impose but rather properly within the sphere of the legislature.

The court then finishes with a suggestion to the husband to file an educational neglect action against the mother in municipal court to involve the local public school system and force the mother to show she is giving the children an education equivalent to public or parochial schools. The court then suggests that
"if the district does not take affirmative action, and the Department of Education is unresponsive then this court will consider, by formal motion, a request to join those parties to this action."
i.e. Should the father do so and the educational authorities do not react and do something the court will.

Of course, the question of equivalent to public school education would be interesting - would the equivalent be based merely on the type of curriculum taught or the comparative testing of the home schooled children vis-a-vis the public school kids, and if so what yardstick would be used? Would the children simply have to do better academically than the worst student at the public school, meet the average or do better than average? The court doesn't say.

There is after all, a constitutional right to direct the education of one's children, and especially given the religious background of the parents involved this would potentially implicate the Supreme Court's decision in Wisconsin v Yoder that religious parents can direct the education of their children.

On the other hand, the court does seem to express a valid concern that was raised by the father that some of the children have possible dyslexia - if so the mother should likely seek some testing. The father even "stipulated the he does not object
to continue home schooling, but only if each individual child is receiving
equivalent instruction to what is offered in the public or parochial schools." Which is quite reasonable on his part.

The court essentially gave a guide to the father in how to pursue an educational neglect case against the mother, and nothing more and concluded that "Here it is the child’s best interests for the court not to exercise its discretion, and allow the parents and the school district to resolve this educational issue." Most likely the father will involve the school district in the dispute and there may very well be further court action in the case.

While I do not home school my kids, as one is in preschool now, and the other is but six months of age, and I'm quite happy with the quality of education my child is getting at preschool, but I know quite a few people that do or who were themselves home schooled. The majority of home schooled people I know are just as well educated as anyone else -- if not more so. One colleague of mine at University went on to become a Professor of History, has a position at a well-known university and can intellectually and socially hold his own with anyone and was home schooled (very rigorously I might add).

On the other hand I've seen a home school situation where the kids were not well educated and were taught by parents who while loving did not have a structured or successful approach, and as a result their younger child is seriously behind now that the child is in regular school and the older one as an adult has a serious educational, not to mention employment deficiency and is very underemployed given his innate abilities and potential.

For the court to go on a diatribe about the unmonitored nature of home schooling in New Jersey is quite outside the scope of the true issue raised in the case, and likely has raised the ire of many home schooling parents - after all many pulled their children out of public school due to the lousy education the children were, or would have received in the public system.

The parents clearly disagree about the quality of the education the children are receiving and unfortunately were, and probably still are, unable to resolve the issue without outside (i.e. court) involvement. By taking the dispute to court the parents opened up the question of the measure of the education given to the children and the court essentially gave the father a road map to deal with his concern should it not be resolved outside the legal system including a pretty pointed warning to the parents that it would be best that the court is not involved in the decision - which is rather reasonable rather than the court forcing a situation on the parents. Aside from the diatribe the decision is neither terrible nor particularly troublesome and hopefully will get the parents to come to a resolution on their own.

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