NH man, ex-wife in legal fight over home schooling

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / January 6, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—Divorced parents who couldn't agree on how to educate their daughter have brought their fight to New Hampshire's highest court in a case that looks at whether families have a constitutional right to home school their kids.

Religious freedom groups have trumpeted the cause of Brenda Voydatch of Meredith, who home schooled her 11-year-old daughter, Amanda, from first through fourth grade.

Voydatch claims her rights were violated when a court ordered that Amanda attend public school, after the girl's father, Martin Kurowski, said his ex-wife's strict Christian teachings were socially isolating their child and they could not settle on an alternative to home schooling.

On Thursday, a lawyer for Kurowski, who has joint custody, argued in state Supreme Court that parents have no constitutional right to home school their kids.

"Religion is a big issue for Ms. Voydatch, but it's a small issue for the court," said attorney Joshua Gordon. "This is not a constitutional case."

John Simmons Sr., Voydatch's attorney, argued that the court punished both the mother and daughter for their religious views.

After the hearing, Simmons said if the lower court ruling is upheld, "No woman wearing a burqa could ever make a decision for her child. That's not our country. That's not our laws."

The justices peppered both sides with questions about whether it rises to a constitutional case or is simply a family court dispute between the parents that the court was well within its jurisdiction to resolve.

"This is not state versus parent," Justice Robert Lynn said. "The state was forced into this because it's a dispute between the parents that someone had to resolve."

The couple divorced when their daughter was two months old. She lives primarily with her mother but regularly visits her father at his Portsmouth home.

Kurowski wanted his daughter exposed to different points of view and more opportunities for social interaction than home school afforded, court documents state.

Voydatch sent her daughter to public school in Meredith for certain classes, such as gym and art, but home schooled her using education materials from Bob Jones University, a fundamental Christian college in South Carolina.

Family Division Judge Lucinda Sadler ordered in 2009 that Amanda begin attending public school that fall after the parents failed to agree on a private or parochial school. The judge said the ruling did not infringe on the parents' religious freedom because "both are free to provide religious guidance" to their child.

The Supreme Court's decision, expected months from now, could turn on technical issues. If the lower court's order amounted to a modification of the parenting plan, Sadler would have had to show the child was actually being harmed by the home schooling situation. If it does not amount to a modification, the court's ruling could be based on the lesser burden of what is in the child's best interest -- the standard Sadler adopted.

Both parents attended the arguments; their daughter did not.

Voydatch said her daughter is enrolled in sixth grade at a public school.

"I'm not sure she comprehends the severity of the case," Voydatch said.