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High court hears home school case

Last modified: 1/7/2011 12:00:00 AM
Attorneys for the divorced parents of a Meredith girl argued before the state Supreme Court yesterday about whether a lower court was right to order the girl from home schooling to public school.

The daughter of Brenda Voydatch and Martin Kurowski has attended public school in Meredith since September 2009, after a Belknap County judge ruled in a dispute between the parents about how to educate the girl. Voydatch had taught their daughter, Amanda, at home since she was in first grade. After Kurowski, who shares decision-making responsibility, charged that Voydatch had not consulted him about educating their daughter at home, the parents agreed to a court hearing to decide where Amanda would be taught.

In ordering the parents to send Amanda to public school last year, the court observed that while her curriculum compared to that of the local public schools and she seemed sociable and academically prepared, she also 'appeared to reflect her mother's rigidity on questions of faith.' The order states that the court considered evidence about Amanda's religious faith only because she was 'unhappy that her father did not love her enough to want to spend eternity with her by adopting her faith.

Before the state's high court yesterday, attorney John Anthony Simmons argued the family court had violated the constitutional rights of Voydatch and her daughter by deciding the mother was raising Amanda to be too religious.

'In its view, the mother and the child both had religious views that were too narrow,' Simmons said after the hearing. 'If that is the precedent in this country, then no woman wearing a burqa could ever make decisions for her child.'

Attorney Joshua Gordon, who represented Kurowski, argued that the case had little to do with religion. While religious differences led to the dispute about where to educate the girl, the court considered religion only as a small part of its task to seek the best interests of a child whose parents could not come to their own decision, he said.

'This case is not about religion or even about education,' Gordon told the justices. 'It's merely parents who differ about child-rearing philosophies. Ms. Voydatch wants the child cloistered. Mr. Kurowski believes she should be more worldly and more widely exposed.'

In ordering Amanda to attend a public school, the court did not judge Voydatch's religion, but chose an 'agnostic alternative,' Gordon said. In its order, the court stated that sending Amanda to public school would not interfere with Voydatch's right to provide religious guidance to Amanda. It also stated that the parents could still agree either to continue their system of home schooling with some classes at the public school or to find a religious school.

The justices asked both attorneys multiple questions about whether the case involved a constitutional question or a routine parenting dispute. They also asked whether the order to send Amanda to public school amounted to a modification of a previous court order. Modifying an order would have required the court to show Amanda had been harmed by her home schooling, rather than simply stating that her best interests were served by attending public school.

Voydatch said after the arguments that Amanda is doing well in sixth grade at the Meredith public school.

'I'm not sure that she comprehends the severity of the case,' Voydatch said. 'She's very much a people person, but she does want to come home to home school.'

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)


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