NEWARK, N.J. — Do recent legal decisions in Germany and the United States spell trouble for home-schooling families? It depends on who you ask.
A Catholic home-schooling mother of seven from New Jersey returned to court recently to defend the academic instruction she provides her children. The evidentiary hearing brought as part of pending divorce litigation was held because of her husband’s concerns that their children were not receiving the educational equivalent of a public or parochial school.
The woman asked that her name not be used in this article.
According to Beatrice Kandell, the woman’s attorney, Superior Court Judge Thomas Zampino concluded that he did not have the jurisdiction to decide the home-schooling issue and ended the hearing, apprising the husband of remedies if he desired further resolution. He could, for example, initiate a truancy action.
Attorney Scott Woodruff of the Home School Legal Defense Association, which is not involved in the case, said, “The decision is binding only on the particular individuals involved and will not have any precedent-setting effect beyond this case.”
Yet Woodruff is concerned about the regulatory nature of the administrative remedies offered by the court, as well as the opinions expressed by Zampino in the Feb. 23 decision, which he interprets as editorialized hostility toward homeschoolers.
“The judge expresses shock that families are not required to be monitored,” said Woodruff, noting that “many states do not require monitoring.”
Matt Bowman, an attorney with Alliance Defense Fund, an organization committed to defending the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, also not a party to the divorce case, agreed.
“New Jersey’s state law explicitly states that parents may offer equivalent instruction at home and imposes zero regulations,” Bowman said. “They don’t even have to tell the government they are going to home school.”
“Judge Zampino,” Kandell explained, “commented in his opinion on what he deemed might be deficiencies in the statute, but he can’t rule on that. Dicta are part of the opinion but not relevant to the decision.”
Kandell said the home-schooling mother was not disappointed with the decision. “It has allowed her to go back to teaching her children without interference,” she said.
Bowman and Woodruff fear that because the decision is public information, and it is legitimate for one court to look at what another has done and be persuaded by it — even if the opinion does not bind another court — this case, if followed by other judges, imposes a burden on home-schooling families that has no basis in the law in the state of New Jersey.
The administrative remedies presented to the husband at the evidentiary hearing also prove troubling to the home-school advocates.
“Should you really be saying home schoolers need to be monitored, checked, analyzed and treated like a suspect class, when there is absolutely nothing to merit it?” Woodruff said.
“The judge wasn’t telling other agencies what they should do,” Kandell said. “He can’t.”
Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, who gave expert testimony in the case, said, “From the cases I’ve seen as an expert witness, this judge basically said home schooling is legal in New Jersey and implied the mother appears to be validly home educating because of the fact that he never said she was breaking the law or harming her children. He allowed the status quo home education to continue.”
Keeping the status quo is exactly the problem for home schoolers in Germany where home schooling was outlawed in 1938. Home-schooling advocates are watching litigation in Europe closely.
“I think that people who understand the times will realize that although America is rich in freedom now, trends that start in Europe have a strong tendency to jump across the pond and become rooted on this side of the Atlantic,” said Woodruff.
“Europe tends to be ahead of the trend implementing leftist ideology,” said Bowman, referring to an ideology where “the state has primary rights over the upbringing of children. That’s the ideology that is driving the German government to [maintain] the prohibition of home schooling and use armed troops to impose their law. Hitler had obvious reasons for imposing government indoctrination of children,” Bowman said.
This directly contradicts the Catholic perspective of society, where, as Bowman indicates, “Pope John Paul II said the fundamental unit of society is the family. The ideology behind the German law is that raising and educating children is a job of the state first, the family second, and that the family must yield to the state.”
“There is not a conspiracy or a direct connection,” Bowman said, “between New Jersey and Germany, but it is troubling that both these battles are coming to a head. We shouldn’t be in a panic, but we should be concerned. They are of the same kind of attitude because of the judge’s disdain of the notion that parents can raise their children without governmental interference.”
Janet Cassidy is based in
Grand Blanc, Michigan.