A Superior Court judge in New Jersey says homeschooling is just about the same as deliberate child abuse.
In fact, he says, he just might name a school district in his state as a defendant in a current court dispute, citing the district’s “shocking” failure to monitor and test all students – including homeschoolers.
“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 ‘homeschooled’ and because no one, such as a teacher or nurse, was able to observe any abuse in a school setting, it went undiscovered,” wrote Judge Thomas Zampino in a case that came before him.
That’s even though New Jersey state law does forbid child abuse, and its regulations regarding homeschooling say parents or guardians are allowed “to educate the child at home.” Further, the state law notes they are not required to submit any type of communication of intent to a local school board, nor are parents required to have their plans approved by a board.
In fact, state law allows a school board in New Jersey to act against a homeschooling parent only if there is “credible evidence that the parent, guardian or other person having custody or control of a school-age child is not causing the child either to attend school (public or nonpublic) or to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school …”
Despite New Jersey state law, Zampino insists what needs to happen is this:
Certain basic requirements and safeguards should be implemented that protect all children, once the decision to “homeschool” a child has been made by the parents, as follows:
1. A parent/guardian who seeks to homeschool his/her child(ren) must register the child(ren) in their home school district, so that no child slips through the cracks of our education system.
2. A curriculum must be presented and filed with the local board of education and some “homeschool” training seminar required for the teaching parent (a four-hour video would suffice).
3. Testing on the same standardized basis for all students shall be administered to all homeschool children on an annual basis to measure whether “equivalent instruction” is being received by a child “elsewhere than at school.”
A New Jersey lawyer familiar with homeschooling precedents in his state told WND the judge suggests the parents in the divorce dispute work it out. But he said the judge’s additional comments are alarming.
“He’s presenting this as though it’s authority,” Christopher Brennan said. “He’s just making this up, with no basis whatsoever, saying that this is what should be done.”
The judge, in fact, didn’t stop with just the New Jersey situation.
“Here, [a witness in court] testified that approximately two million of today’s fifty five million school age children are presently being homeschooled in the United States. Such numbers outside the public school system cannot be left without any review requirements under the law,” Zampino said.
“How can we have as existing law for these children, only two court decisions that are over 40 years old, and no state statute that outlines a framework for school districts when parents choose this alternative for their children” the judge asked.
The Home School Legal Defense Association, which works worldwide on behalf of homeschool students and projects, said it couldn’t comment on the specific issues in the case. But the organization did note that the judge’s words did not change New Jersey law.
“In order to protect individual freedoms, the founders of our nation wanted to be sure that governmental powers did not become overly concentrated. To prevent this, they wisely split power into three branches – legislative, judicial and executive. As the founders conceived it, the judicial branch has no power to make new laws. That power belongs to the legislature working through representatives elected by the people,” the group said in a statement.
Brennan, however, noted that once a judge’s opinion becomes available, it is easy for another judge to quote from that, or even cite it as a conclusion.
“What really is problematic [is] this is symptomatic of classic judicial activism. The Legislature clearly spells out what’s required to educate a child in the state of New Jersey,” Brennan said. “They’ve said, ‘This is the requirement,’ and it’s just that they [homeschooling parents] have to provide an equivalent instruction.”
The judge said the status of homeschooling, to him, isn’t acceptable. His comments were prompted by concerns by Stephen Hamilton that his wife, Tara Hamilton, from whom he separated in 2006, was adequately teaching their children at home.
“In questioning by this court, the mother made it clear that in the ten years she had been homeschooling the children, 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,” he wrote.
“In this day and age where we seek to protect children from harm and sexual predators, so many children are left unsupervised. It is further shocking to this court that in September, 2001 the New Jersey Department of Education published answers to frequently asked questions about homeschooling as a guide to local school districts that listed the following:
1. Parents/Guardians are not required by law to notify their public school district of their intention to educate the child elsewhere than at school.
2. The law does not require or authorize the local board of education to review and approve the curriculum or program of a child educated elsewhere than at school.
3. No certification to teach is required to be held by the parent.
4. No standardized test(s) are administered to the children.
The judge, however, said he wasn’t attacking homeschooling.
His comments, rather, are “a statement that it is necessary to register those children for whom this alternative is chosen and to monitor that their educational needs are being adequately nurtured. Judicial interpretation of the statute requires such steps to measure ‘equivalent instruction’ when the alternative ‘elsewhere than at school’ is chosen by parents.'”
In the case at hand, involving the Hamilton family, the judge said the father has an administrative remedy at hand. He may contact the Ridgewood Board of Education “and the school district will file suit … against Ms. Hamilton for the children’s non-attendance at school.” When she then notifies the court she’s chosen homeschooling she will then be required to show the school district it is equivalent, the judge said.
The HSLDA said the judge probably would not have been shocked had he been aware that New Jersey’s homeschooling laws are similar to those in other states.
“The judge is mistaken, pure and simple,” Brennan told WND. “A judge can be mistaken.”
He said the two million students homeschooled in the United States now are not being neglected, either. They are, in fact, protected from being molested by teachers, which while rare, does happen.
In a commentary on the Constitutionally Correct site, the writers said New Jersey judges “who legislate from the bench are giving Massachusetts judges (and German jack boots) a run for their money. … The court’s opinion is a judicial temper tantrum. The judge wails that New Jersey law doesn’t fit his idea of what the law should be. Not only does New Jersey law not require government monitoring and testing of homeschoolers, the state gives public schools no legal authorization to do so…”
The reference to Germany was about an issue on which WND has reported extensively. In that case, police took into custody a 15-year-old student, Melissa Busekros, and a judge ordered her into a psychiatric hospital, for being homeschooled, which remains illegal in that country.
Wolfgang Drautz, consul general of the Federal Republic of Germany, has said that “the public has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different worldviews and in integrating minorities into the population as a whole.”
That means, worldviews that do not align with those taught in Germany’s public schools must be stamped out, he said.
The HSLD has called the case an “outrage.”
Further, American homeschoolers should be concerned, as WND has reported, because the ease with which similar restrictions on free choice could be imposed in the United States.
Michael Farris, cofounder of the HSLDA, has called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect the right of parents to educate their children at home, in light of such developments in Europe.
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