Activist judge v. homeschooling mom

Activist judge v. homeschooling mom

A New Jersey judge has ruled that a homeschooling mother must submit to state oversight even though state law says otherwise.

Tara Hamilton was sued by her estranged husband, Stephen, to force her to enroll their children in a parochial school because he says she can't give them an adequate education, despite the fact that she was homeschooling the kids before they broke up. The husband claims that "they lack socialization skills and that it is too difficult for the mother to teach the children at five different grade levels." It's the standard complaint thrown at homeschooling.

The judge sided with the husband and ordered Tara Hamilton to submit her kids to the oversight of a local public school system, including standardized testing, even though state explicitly exempts homeschooled kids from such testing. Judge Thomas Zampino also order the local school district to sue Tara in order to get a legal order that would allow them to "evaluate instruction in the home," even though the case clearly does not meet the guidelines in state law for that action.

Right on down the line, we see that this is clearly a case of an activist judge misusing his authority to punish a homeschooling mom at the behest of an estranged husband. It's another case of the creeping mindset that says that children are the primary responsibility of the government and only secondarily of the parent and that parents' rights only exist at the sufferance of the next activist judge or liberal legislature.

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  • OK. Tara needs to stand firm, appeal, and defy the court!

    We need to pray for her, and Bai MacFarlane, another homeschooling mom terrorized by our jack-booted court system!

    Interesting, both these cases revolve around a divorce????

  • It’s not as simple as has been portrayed if you read the judge’s decision, as opposed to the spin by the fringe media.

    The father fears his children are not receiving an education equivalent to a public or parochial school. He believes there are too many children and different levels with too many subjects for the mother to provide the proper learning environment. He fears the mother is undisciplined, unstructured and cannot see any of the children’s individual shortcomings. He believes that some of his children cannot write cursive and also print their names backwards.  He fears dyslexia is going unnoticed.

    The mother claims to teach, at the same time, several different grade levels to her children aged 12, 11, 9, 8 and 6, while simultaneously caring for her 1 year old and a 2 year old.  She has no formal training as a teacher, is unaware of the books utilized in either the Montclair or Ridgewood school districts. She uses books she believes are appropriate for each child; none of these books are utilized by the school districts.

    The judge lauds homeschooling but says the State of New Jersey has an obligation to these kids to be sure they are receiving at least an equivalent education to that received by the other children in the State. 

    Does that make him an “activist judge” or a responsible jurist?

  • Rick:  Everything you say means nothing. And none are requirements for HomeSchooling.

    The books used in the schood districts are inconsequential.

    Can you imagine a public school district having:  Augustine Came to Kent (Fiction), Vocabulary for Young Catholics, Spelling for Young Catholics, etc… God’s Creation (biology) These are books used by the Seton Cirriculum. 

    He is indeed an activist judge, if he IS OVERSTEPPING HIS AUTHORITY.  In this case he is.

    Like I said before:  NO DIVORCE, NO CASE.

    The devil has his hand in this.

  • Sorry for the double post:

    Isn’t it amazing that this didn’t come from the school board?  Usually it is a social worker or a school board trampling on the laws of the state where homeschooling is involved (of course, that’s if there isn’t a divorce in the mix).

  • Joe,

    The real question is, did that mother have ANY spelling books, ANY vocabulary books, ANY math books?  Even any of the ones you list??  If so, was she using them to teach her kids the basics?  Were here kids learning the basics?  Their suspects not.

    Don’t you believe the State has an obligation to see that these children are not being neglected?  Or should we all wait until they are adults who can recite the Hail Mary in latin, while handing me incorrect change of a dollar at the McDonald’s cash register?


  • My wife has homeschooled our 5 since our oldest was in 3rd grade. It’s not easy by any stretch but it is doable. Also consider that the kids can actually help each other out and as an older one helps the younger he gets a refresher course in something. It’s a beautiful system really!

    As to whether or not the books the mom is using conform to what the local school system uses, that really doesn’t matter. Frankly I’d be surprised to find the local school system employing Plato and Socrates let alone the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    The point of homeschooling is that parents want better for their children than what they can provide in their own home. Also, recall that the Church teaches that parents are the first and primary educators of their children and this is a right which cannot rightfully be abrogated by the State.

  • This thread gave me mixed feelings.  I support homeschooling and don’t believe the government has any business telling citizens how to educate their children.  …….However, this IS a custody case.  The two parents in question couldn’t work things out among themselves and went to the state to settle matters. 

    Rick, I agree with your skepticism since we don’t know the facts (exactly who left whom and why?),  but you seem to question whether one woman can successfully educate five children of different ages at home.  Of course it happens every day, and very often better than a local school.  There is a LOT of wasted time during a school day.  Children with average intelligence and focus abilities can learn the same lessons the kids in school are learning in under two hours, a smart child even less.

  • Rick:

    Don’t you believe the State has an obligation to see that these children are not being neglected?  Or should we all wait until they are adults who can recite the Hail Mary in latin, while handing me incorrect change of a dollar at the McDonald’s cash register?

    My experience with homeschoolers, who end up being able to recite the Hail Mary in Latin, is that often many look to a trade, and have no interest in college unless it leads to a career of “independence”, or a profession like a Physician.  Many end up in The Trades and do amazingly well.

    My experience is that they are often better socialized than school kids, as the look on what is truly important, not necessarily worldly important.  When most people meet homeschoolers, they usually find a child very capable of carrying on a conversation with an adult.  Most are highly proficient in Math, since they stick with a subject until the master it.

    While you may believe the State has an obligation to see that these children are not being neglected the question becomes what is neglect and what is abuse.  I would challenge that reading King and King with men kissing to young children is a great abuse, and children being brutalized, assaulted, and battered by their peers on playgrounds, in hallways, and on busses, while teachers and parent helpers chit-chat rather than supervising is neglect.

    Finally,most children who could say the Hail Mary in Latin, would know to capitalize the L.

    Terry:  Bravo!

  • Rick,

    You don’t actually need textbooks to teach spelling, math, vocabulary, or really any subject, except maybe advanced math and science. In fact, there are schools of educational philosophy that eschew textbooks completely. Most textbooks are a very poor substitute for well-written books by a single author who is knowledgeable and passionate about his subject. They are written by committee, usually not to a very high standard of English, and I’ve never seen one that was anything but boring, dry and lifeless. When was the last time you curled up with a good textbook? Especially for kids with different learning styles or learning disabilities, textbooks can be replaced by one-on-one instruction, “living” books, and other supplemental materials such as math manipulatives. 

    There is no evidence provided that the children were not receiving an adequate education except the disgruntled complaints of a father who was evidently fine with homeschooling before the divorce. I suspect he’s using the kids as pawns in a power game.

    New Jersey law explicitly protects parent’s right to homeschool free from government interference. Not only does New Jersey not require government monitoring and testing of homeschoolers, the state gives public schools no legal authorization to do so. The judge is trying to create a law which does not exist.

    Tell me why the state should have such power? Are they doing such a great job in public schools? Maybe when they have 100% success rate, I’ll grant they are better decision makers than parents. But even if the state were a perfect educator, parents still have a natural right to make decisions for their children. And evidence shows that homeschoolers are just as if not more successful than public schooled kids.

  • Your complaints that “The mother claims to teach, at the same time, several different grade levels to her children aged 12, 11, 9, 8 and 6, while simultaneously caring for her 1 year old and a 2 year old….has no formal training as a teacher, uses books she believes are appropriate for each child; none of these books are utilized by the school districts.” are complaints against homeschooling in general and show no evidence of neglect.

    In fact many homeschoolers thrive in exactly the circumstances you detail.

    That one person cannot supervise many grade levels simultaneously is absurd. In fact, that was the standard in the one room schoolhouse where a single teacher supervised many more children than the average homeschooling mother. And provided a much higher standard of education, if you examine the standard 8th grade exams from 200 years ago.

    Formal teacher training is geared more toward classroom management than toward content or subject areas. And the skills taught are simply inappropriate for one-on-one tutorial style education. Homeschool mothers who were previously teachers in public or private schools attest that their training and experience were by and large irrelevant to a homeschool situation. They are different skill sets and there is little overlap. Many teachers in public and private schools have little or no training in the content areas they teach.

    As far as textbooks, see my previous comment. I’ve seen no evidence that the textbooks chosen by state committees are so superior that they should be adopted by a homeschooling mother.

    State standards are minimum standards and still many students fall through the cracks and fail. Many adults, products of public schools are barely literate. I know. I taught at a public college and I had students in my class who could barely read and write much less do so with any proficiency.

    Standardized education fails children at both ends. Smart kids are bored, slow kids are frustrated. In reality few kids are at grade level in all areas. A child will read at a fifth grade level and do math at a first grade level; be far in advance of his peers in science and far behind in history. Children are not interchangeable parts and homeschooling at least addresses those differences better than any formal classroom setting can.

  • Joe,

    You didn’t answer my question.  I submit that the State has an interest and an obligation in seeing that children are not neglected in their education.  I imagine you disagree.

    And thanks for pointing out my misspelled word.  I’m sure it makes you feel like a man.  I should probably refrain from underscoring the similar misspelling in your second paragraph, and the grammatical errors in the third and fourth paragraphs, of your recent post.  Let he who is without sin cast the first . . .


    I am most certainly not questioning whether one woman can educate five children.  I am questioning whether this particular woman can educate five children.  There is some evidence that she can’t, and so the courts have asked that they be tested.


  • Melanie,

    Thanks for your thoughtful commentary on homeschooling.  You make a strong case that it can be an effective, and perhaps superior, method of education than traditional classroom settings.  But I guess that all depends on the quality of the teaching experience.  Of course the public school system in this country stinks, and I pity the students who are forced to go through it.  I would also pity a student who went through a poor homeschooling experience.

    My question is, should we have a standard in this country, so that we, as citizens, can feel comfortable that our neighbor’s children are being fed, immunized and educated?


  • I am questioning whether this particular woman can educate five children.  There is some evidence that she can’t, and so the courts have asked that they be tested.

    From what I’ve read, the only evidence submitted is the father’s complaints (and you have to admit he’s not an unbiased observer) and the fact that the children are being homeschooled. If there were any other evidence, it would have been cited and it isn’t.

    My question is, should we have a standard in this country, so that we, as citizens, can feel comfortable that our neighbor’s children are being fed, immunized and educated?

    I would argue that we should and do have such standards; but that any such standard is firstly and primarily not a statutory matter arbited by the government but a communal standard monitored by family, church and community.

    Moreover, there is such a standard and under NJ law it is monitored by the school system. But this is a divorce court proceeding. The judge is acting far outside his jurisdiction when he orders the school system to sue the family in this matter.

    There already is a system in place under NJ law for the school district, if presented with credible evidence of abuse or neglect, to sue. Why then do they need to be ordered to do so? Can it be that there is no credible evidence of neglect beyond the mere fact of homeschooling? As Matt Bowman of constitutionally correct said, “The NJ Dept of Education states clearly and repeatedly on its website that homeschooling is not “educational neglect.”  If the court here had tangible evidence of neglect it would have mentioned it, but all the court cites is the husband’s vague concerns, the number of children, and the fact that the court thinks all homeschooling must have oversight.”

    Are you arguing contra NJ Dept of Ed policy that homeschooling is educational neglect or that NJ should have a tougher standard? Do you think there should be mandatory govt. inspections of all homeschoolers and all familes with children who have not yet reached school age?

    Sadly, abuse happens, neglect happens. It happens in the home, it happens in the schools, it even happens in our churches. We do have systems in place to address such abuse when there is credible evidence. But I for one do not want to expand the government’s power to intrude into the sanctuary of the home with no evidence. And I agree with the NJ Dept of Ed that homeschooling is not neglect and that homeschoolers should be given the benefit of the doubt.

  • Melanie,

    You are right that the only evidence of neglect at this point is their father’s claim.  But please don’t discount his authority in the matter.  He is their father.  In the same way, I would hope that any statements you ever made to a court about the care your child was or was not receiving would be taken seriously and weighed as credible evidence by the courts.

    I agree that homeschooling is not per se negligent.  I agree that homeschoolers should be given the benefit of the doubt.  And I believe that our government should set minimum standards to ensure that all of the children who reside in a particular State receive at least a minimum amount of food, healthcare and education.  Whether they get those at home or elsewhere.  I think the children deserve it.

  • It’s funny I was going to respond to Rick with the only “evidence” that the mother is not doing a good job homeschooling is the father’s word, but Melanie said it for me.    But then Melanie went further than I would have.  I think the judge has to determine whose perspective is more valid – the father’s or the mother’s – and one way of doing that is to subject the kids to state standards.    I don’t see why the judge should necessarily take the mother’s side when there is a disagreement about schooling brought to him.  Remember, the disagreement has been brought to him by the parents of the children.    It’s just too hard for me to take sides on this one without knowing the circumstances of the parents.

  • Ricky my boy, I always feel like a man.  Sometimes I feel like a Mensch!

    But to answer your question, the State has an interest and an obligation in seeing that children are not neglected in their education, of course they have an interest, but an obligation, no.  This obligation belongs to the parents.  Just like many would argue to keep the state “out of the bedroom”, you could argue to keep the state out of the homeschool.

    You see, I think it is child abuse to send your children to a public school.

    As far as my grammatical errors and misspellings go:  I wasn’t homeschooled, so I cannot be expected to perform any better than my public HS and State University education.

    Plus, when did poor spelling and grammar become a sin?

    Bless me Father, for I have sinned.  I misspelled 25 words this week, had five punctuation errors, three grammatical errors, and lost my copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves.  Penance:  10 Ave Maria’s (I believe that is Hail Mary in Latin)

    My question is, should we have a standard in this country, so that we, as citizens, can feel comfortable that our neighbor’s children are being fed, immunized and educated?   No.  Interesting, while the intent seem honorable for this, it becomes an “inspection of the children”.  What comes next, psychological evaluation?  Plus, what would a homeschooler’s children have to do with your comfort?  Don’t you have enough to worry about

    You can see, of your two main antagonists in this thread, the beautiful and talented Mrs. Bettinelli (I believe former English Professor) is the more civil and will argue the the logical and intellectual angles, while I come in swinging a club.  The combination is often unbearable for the opposition.  One attacks you intellectually, while the other beats you over the head.*** BOY, NOW I FEEL EVEN MORE LIKE A MAN ****

  • Nobody can tell anything (legally significant) from the statements made about this case in public media. If you’re not a party to the case, or counsel for one side or the other, you’re building arguments on sand. That’s why I said from the outset, I just hope she has good HSLDA insurance; they will help her get what is RIGHT, whatever that might be in this case.

  • Joe,

    Thanks for making your position clear.  I’m not interested in your hyperbole or swinging clubs, so I’ll conclude our discussion by letting you know that I do pray for you.


  • Rick’s concern for his neighbors’ kids being fed, immunized, and educated is the most worrisome aspect—and that he is so concerned that he would employ the galacticly inept, ignorant, and wicked social hand of American government. 

    If you’re worried about your neighbor’s kids being fed—then you buy them some food, man.  Don’t leave it to the government.  That’s how this whole thing got screwed up in the first place. 

    It floors me to imagine that Rick thinks he has the moral right and the effective means to govern my family.  Do you even remember public school, Rick?  You would take my 7-year-old away from me because someone deemed my curriculum lacking a measureable physical education program.  Your enlightened solution is to put her in the local public school to learn the joys of dodgeball from the 9-year-old meathead who’s one his 2nd year of 2nd grade.

    Whenever my US Naval Academy graduate wife doubts her homeschooling ability, I confidently reply that I don’t care if my daughter doesn’t learn to read until she’s 12 (she reads fluently at 7) she receives our Lord every day and she doesn’t know what “69ing” is.  Those are this patriach’s standards.  You may think them low, but I’ll bet a steak dinner and as much wine as both of us can drink before breakfast, you can’t find 2% of all second graders in your community that can meet them.

    I bring up the physical education bit because several weeks ago my kids and wife got waylaid by a concerned parish visitor about my 7-year-old not having a physical education program.  In the same week a cop came by and questioned my kids because someone called in concerned about truancy, having observed my kids out climbing trees and playing in the snow at 9AM. 

    St. Perpetua save us from our “concerned” “neighbors”.

  • As a former homeschooler (K – 12), I am no fan of HSLDA, but this isn’t the place for me to go into the reasons we kept our distance from that group.  If Mrs. Hamilton has, or does, set up a Paypal account to receive contributions for her legal fees, my husband and I would be happy to assist her.  I hope that she belongs to a great homeschool support group and has friends in NJ who are willing to stand beside her.

      I am very much opposed to the state interfering in the upbringing of our children.  It shocks me how readily so many people are willing to give up their rights in the vain hope that a nanny government will ensure that each and every child receives a textbook upbringing. Some of the same people who want control over all children’s education also believe it’s reasonable for the state to intervene in children’s diets, sleep habits, health care (including ABC), and religious training.  Too many judeges have already overstepped their bounds on these matters, usually in divorce cases.

  • Rick,

    I come late to this thread, so I may be addressing you in vain.

    One concern about standardized testing and homeschooling is that the curriculum the test assumes may not exist in the homeschool, and the results may therefore be inaccurate.  In order to reassure my husband, I gave my kids standardized tests (CA state-approved tests) two years ago.  My kids excelled in math, reading, and language skills.  They did (relatively) poorly in social studies and science.  Why?  Well, because I teach (or rather, have them read) in history from the ancients to the moderns, rather than baby-level civics and American geography.  So my fourth-grader (at the time) knew a fair amount about the Middle Ages, but almost nothing about American history.  He still managed to pull off an 85th percentile score, but compared with 99th (with one mistake on the entire test) in math, it was a poor result.  Likewise, in science, our curriculum apparently follows a different scope and sequence (and I do buy a “school-in-a-box” science curriculum); so the science test results were lower as well. 

    Then there’s the question of what’s an appropriate result.  For some kids with dyslexia, test results may vary wildly just because of the reading complications. 

    So testing is not necessarily an accurate way to determine whether kids are learning.

    I guess I would say the most significant action the court could take would be to require the mother to keep a log of what she does, and then ask that log to be reviewed by the court with both parents present and also a licensed teacher who is either a homeschooling parent or has been one in the recent past.  When I lived in Maine, this was one of the options for end-of-year review, and it worked pretty well.  The court would be educated about homeschooling, rather than having the battling parents present either-or perspectives.

    The other thing to bear in mind, if the mother has such small children in addition to the homeschooled students, is that the rhythm of the school year may be disrupted by a baby or toddler, but in a true homeschooling environment the family can “make up” lost time over schoolchildren’s vacations.  You don’t have to stick to the same calendar, after all.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there are solutions that don’t require the homeschool to conform to the school system, respect the parent who is homeschooling, and provide a reality check for the parent who is concerned about what learning is really happening.  We can’t tell from the news reports of the court’s decision—that’s for sure!

  • Joshua,

    I’m very sorry that the care you are giving to your children has resulted in a visit from the police and the criticism of a parish visitor, but please don’t put words in my mouth or jump to conclusions.  And no, I don’t remember public school, I had the benefit of an excellent private education that surpassed any State standards and yes I do appreciate that most people can’t afford that.  Similarly, your children sound very lucky that they too have the benefit of an excellent private education, provided by your wife.

    I never suggested employing the government or taking your children away from you as a fix for anything.  And “governing” your family is also some exaggerated language. 

    Let me put the question this way, and perhaps you can answer it without jumping to a doomsday scenario.  Assume there is a married couple who live in your State and who choose to homeschool their 3 children.  The parents are high school graduates and they employ books and other homeschool resources to teach all the basics: physical ed, math, history, foreign language, religion, science, etc.  Let’s also assume that, unlike all the fine people who contribute on this website, the parents (by any reasonable person standard) are simply not getting the job done.  The kids aren’t learning, they aren’t performing, they are way behind “grade level”  – – in whatever way any reasonable person would define that term.  How should we, as a civilized society act in response to this, bearing in mind that the parent’s will vehemently deny that the children are “behind” and will maintain they are doing an excellent job.

    If your answer is that every parent has the right to homeschool their children AND THAT that right includes the right to not teach the children what any reasonable person would consider the basics of an elementary education, then just say so.

  • Why not? Public school teacher unions insist that public schools have that right all the time.

    Seriously, the state should not impose an arbitrary standard—which is exactly what the quantification of “what any reasonable person would consider the basics” would be.

    In Lexington, Massachusetts, the “basics” include teaching that homosexuality is moral and socially acceptable according to local policy and backed up by a judge’s decision.

    I don’t consider that “basic” and while I think I’m a “reasonable” person, I bet the Lexington superintendent and the judge don’t.

  • HSLDA will not assist parents in legal matters when a divorce and/or custody is at issue. It is beyond their scope.

    If the father is so concerned (which I doubt) then he should have stayed married to the children’s mother. Maybe he is more interested in diluting his children’s Faith so they won’t condemn him for his faithlessness and abandonment of them. Maybe the father wants the mother to get a job so he can pay less in child support.

    It’s sad to see the benefit of the doubt given to the faithless, so- called father and absolutely none to the devoted homeschooling mother. You can’t help but think of the McFarlanes and the sacrosanct Bud

    And yes, Rick I think that parents have the right to educate their children irrespective of what the state calls “education”. If you support state’s rights over parental rights then you have adopted the communist line. And your inclusion of “immunization” is truly frightening. Do you support the mandatory immunization of little girls against sexually transmitted diseases? Do you support the immunization of children with vaccines that came from an aborted baby’s cells?

    I believe the state has NO rights over my children. I concede none and I grant them none. They can’t keep the foster children alive in their foster homes and they can’t achieve literacy in the children who attend public school so why should I listen to anything they say?

  • And I am so sick of hearing about these large Catholic families where Dad checks out. A friend of mine (who has 11 children) just had her husband leave her for the 26 year old “supermodel” at the office. Their youngest is 6 months old.

    I’m disgusted and I don’t know why more Catholics aren’t.

  • As we can all tell, many have an opinion on this.

    At the BCMC, a man at the CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS MURDER table, ask me if I thought my kids would have problems with SOCIALIZATION! 

    Wow, who would have thought this?  I should have asked him if he thinks abortion is murder.