Family banned from homeschooling after divorce

By Bob Unruh

A Florida judge has ordered several children in a homeschooling family into public school district classes based on the “gut reaction” of a court appointee in a divorce and custody case where homeschooling wasn’t even an issue.

The ruling now is on appeal to the 3rd District Court of Appeals in the Florida court system, where arguments are mounting for the panel of justices to overturn the district court ruling.

Names and ages of the children in the family are not being publicized by WND, but an attorney handling the case, Karen J. Haas, confirmed the basics.

It was during a routine hearing in which the education of the children, who live with their mother, was not an issue, and was not expected to be subject to a court opinion. According to court records, “the father had not made education an issue before the hearing,”

Suddenly, a guardian ad litem in the case – a court appointee assigned to look after the best interests of the children – said she had a “gut reaction” about homeschooling.

“You know what, maybe the kids should have socialization with other kids and go to a small school,” she said, according to court records.

The judge, whose name is being withheld because it could lead to the identification of the children, agreed.

HSLDA said the judge lectured the mother: “When are they going to socialize? Is homeschool going to continue through college and/or professional schooling? At which point are these children going to interact with other children, and isn’t that in their best interest?”

Without notice that the issue was being considered, he ordered the children into public classes – where they will be – and are not liking it – until a ruling would come from the 3rd District Court of Appeals, where arguments are being assembled even now, Haas said.

Haas told WND that she’s hoping the panel of judges will reverse the trial judge’s opinion.

She explained that while the mother holds some conservative views in line with her Catholic faith, those were “unfairly demonized” during the hearing.

She said she was uncomfortable releasing more details about the case, and would suggest her client not publicly discuss the issues while the appeal is pending.

But the need for homeschooled children to be “socialized” through attending public classes quickly was struck down as unsupported by an amicus brief from the Home School Legal Defense Association.

HSLDA filed a friend-of-the-court brief Nov. 26, asserting the belief that homeschooling is socially isolating is “nothing more than a false stereotype as shown by decades of research.”

Jim Mason, HSLDA’s litigation counsel, said it’s “truly unfortunate that after decades of homeschooling parents are still fighting a battle against ignorance and ‘What about socialization?”’

“We see this as an excellent opportunity to educate judges in Florida about homeschooling success,” he said.

“The guardian ad litem’s ‘gut reaction’ was simply wrong and the trial court erred by relying on it,” HSLDA argued. “The unfair, unsupported bias against homeschoolers should not be allowed to persist in the lower courts of this state.”

HSLDA said that if the trial court’s “unsupported bias were allowed to stand, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, this case could become a model for other courts around the state to follow.”

“This result would harm homeschoolers across the state and potentially across the nation,” the organization said.

Homeschoolers succeed

The HSLDA brief includes details of a number of studies, including one of 5,254 homeschooled adults that showed 50.2 percent of homeschooled students go on to some form of college, compared to 34 percent of their peers.

In addition, 8.7 percent received associates degrees, compared to 4.1 percent of their peers, 11.8 percent received bachelor’s degrees, compared to 7.6 percent of their peers; and 0.8 percent received master’s degrees, compared to 0.3 percent of their peers.

Further, the study found that 71 percent of subjects were participating in an ongoing community service activity such as coaching a sports team, volunteering at school, or working with a church or neighborhood association, while 37 percent of similarly aged U.S. adults and 39 percent of all U.S. adults did so.

The survey found that while 88 percent of these homes-educated subjects were a member of an organization, only 50 percent of similarly aged U.S. adults and 59 percent of all U.S. adults were.

Another study, HSLDA told the court, compared homeschooled students to public school students based on 63 indicators.

“Homeschooled students came in first in 43 of the 63 indicators,” HSLDA said.

The study’s author “concluded that homeschooled students were readily recognized for their leadership abilities.”

“One study found that homeschooled children score in the 84th percentile for socialization, in contrast to their peers who scored in the 23rd percentile, and concluded that ‘children kept home are more mature and better socialized than those who are sent to school,'” HSLDA reported.

The Peabody Journal of Education said that despite the “widespread belief that homeschooling is socially isolating, the research documents quite clearly that homeschooled children are very engaged in the social routines of their communities.”

“They are involved in many different kinds of activities with many different kinds of people. In fact, the flexible schedule and more efficient use of time homeschooling affords may allow homeschooled children to participate in more extracurricular activities than children attending conventional schools.”

Homeschoolers don’t lose academically, either, the brief explains.

“Homeschoolers scored higher on the ACT than the national average for 10 years – from 1996 until 2006. In 2006, the ACT stopped reporting the results of homeschooled students separately.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education ” has reported that as early as a decade ago, ‘over 700 post-secondary institutions across the United States, including Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University, MIT, Rice University and the Citadel, admitted homeschool students,'” HSLDA noted.

While foreign governments that do not recognize the same human rights as those acknowledged in the United States, such as Sweden, Spain and Germany, routinely issue such go-to-school orders, they are rare in the United States.

In one dispute in California that started in 2008, a court issued such an order, which ultimately was reversed.

At the time, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said simply that the rights of parents to provide education for their children is basic.

“It’s an important victory for families who cherish the freedom to ensure that their children receive a high quality education that is inherent in homeschooling,” he said at the time.

“Parents have a constitutional right to make educational choices for their children,” added Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb at the time. “Thousands of California families have educated their children successfully through homeschooling. We’re pleased with the court’s decision, which protects the rights of families and protects an avenue of education that has proven to benefit children time and time again.

WND broke the story originally about the California case, when a judicial opinion literally ordered the homeschoolers into a government-approved education program.

The ultimate opinion said the judges were not deciding whether homeschool should be allowed, which would be a job for the legislature.

But they said at this time, “homeschooling was initially expressly permitted in California, when the compulsory education law was enacted in 1903.”

While in 1929 homeschooling “was amended” out of the law, “recent enactments demonstrate an apparent acceptance by the legislature of the proposition that homeschooling is taking place in California, with homeschools allowed as private schools,” the court ruling said.

The court said, “it is our view that the proper course of action is to interpret the earlier statutes in light of the later ones, and to recognize, as controlling, the legislature’s apparent acceptance of the proposition that homeschools are permissible in California when conducted as a private school.”


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