Saturday, March 19, 2011

Children must not have strongly-held Christian views in New Hampshire

The New Hampshire Supreme Court today affirmed a decision ordering a young girl into a public school system because her "vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view," but the justices denied their ruling had anything to do with religion.

"While the case has religious overtones, it is not about religion," claimed the opinion authored by Associate Justice Robert Lynn and joined by Chief Justice Linda Dalianis and Associate Justices James Duggan, Gary Hicks and Carol Conboy.

"We affirm the [lower court's] decision on the narrow basis that it represents a sustainable exercise of the trial court's discretion to determine the educational placement that is in daughter's best interests," the justices wrote.

Lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund, who had argued in the case that the clear religious bias against Christianity expressed by a guardian ad litem and adopted by the court was reason to reverse the decision, said the justices ignored the evidence.

"Parents have a fundamental right to make educational choices for their children," said allied attorney John Anthony Simmons in a statement released by the organization. "Courts can settle disputes, but they cannot legitimately order a child into a government-run school on the basis that her religious views need to be mixed with other views.

"That's precisely what the lower court admitted it was doing," Simmons said. "The lower court held the Christian faith of this mother and daughter against them. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ignored this issue and wrote this off as a 'parent versus parent' issue without recognizing the very real underlying threat to religious liberty."

The high court, while claiming religion did not play a role in the decision, cited statements from a court-chosen guardian ad litem who said, "My recommendations have been somewhat swayed by the way she – the way her religion causes [daughter] to shut out points of view and areas of consideration, and shut out the thinking about points of view," and that "the rigidity of her mom's religious beliefs and how that orders her thinking really causes me to believe that [daughter] would be best served by starting public school as soon as possible."

That's not about religion, the justices wrote. "We conclude that the GAL was expressing her concern about daughter's ability to mentally process, as well as appropriately communicate with others who have differing viewpoints."

The ruling noted the guardian ad litem appointed to consider the child's education recommended "that daughter attend a traditional school beginning in the winter of her fifth grade year."

The mother appealed, with help from ADF, because Marital Master Michael Garner had reasoned that the girl's "vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view."

Garner's beliefs were adopted by Judge Lucinda V. Sadler of the Family Division of the Judicial Court for the Belknap County in Laconia after testimony from a guardian ad litem that the child "appeared to reflect her mother's rigidity on questions of faith" and that the girl's interests "would be best served by exposure to a public school setting" and "different points of view at a time when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief ... in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs"

The dispute arose as part of a modification of a parenting plan for the girl. The parents, Martin Kurowski and Brenda Kurowski, divorced in 1999 when their daughter was a newborn. The mother has homeschooled her daughter since first grade with texts that have met state standards.

In addition to homeschooling, the girl attended supplemental public school classes and also has been involved in a variety of extra-curricular sports activities, ADF reported.

According to court documents, the guardian ad litem earlier had told the mother, "If I want her in public school, she'll be in public school."

The documents also reveal that the guardian ad litem had an anti-Christian bias, telling the mother at one point she wouldn't even look at homeschool curriculum. "I don't want to hear it. It's all Christian-based," she said, documents show.

The high court simply adopted the philosophy of the GAL. "The GAL testified to a situation in which daughter became angry with her therapist when the therapist did not read certain religious materials provided by daughter and 'closed down in the [therapy] session,'" the judges explained. "The GAL testified that a public school environment would offer daughter opportunities to navigate experiences in both social and academic situations with others who have differing viewpoints."

Citing the religious testimony itself, the justices, who had written that the case was not about religion, said "the evidence concerning daughter's experiences in her home school and public school settings, along with the evidence demonstrating the impact of her religious convictions upon her interaction with others, including her father, provide an objective basis for the trial court's decision."

The high court, in affirming the trial court decision that the girl needed to be exposed to "perspectives" other than the Christian teaching she experienced at home, said the conclusion was sound.

"The trial court did not express a belief that daughter needed to be exposed to other religions that were contrary to or different from the beliefs of her parents," the justices said. "Instead, it considered the importance of daughter having the ability to openly communicate with others who have a different viewpoint."

"We reject mother's contention that the trial court expressed disapproval of her actions in encouraging daughter to share her religious views," said the justices.

But even they could not deny the mother's Christian teachings during her homeschooling efforts play a significant role.

"There is no doubt that mother's and child's religious convictions have been a pervasive part of the parties' school placement dispute," the judges wrote. "The trial court also remarked that daughter's strong adherence to religious convictions that align with her mother's beliefs likely was the effect of 'spend[ing] her school time with her mother.'"

Simmons earlier told WND the idea of a judge ordering a child into a public school for having a "vigorous" Christian faith is a "dangerous precedent."

"We maintain the [court] allowed itself to get into a religious debate between the parents. And they punished my client, the mother and her daughter," he said.


Budget Woes Bring New Ideas to Detroit

States are beginning to connect the dots between necessary spending and needless spending. As they work to come up with sustainable budgets the status quo is no longer affordable.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tackled his state’s budget problem by discontinuing collective bargaining rights for the state’s public union employees. His bill also requires that these employees start contributing to their own pensions and health-care coverage.

The whole nation was aware of the battle, Gov. Walker vs. public union employees, and many other states began jumping on the “it’s time to fix our budgets” bandwagon.

States like Michigan are taking it even a step further with the city of Detroit. Why not kill two birds with one stone? The city is in economic disarray and its public education system is failing. State leaders are finding a link between the cost of education and the need to cut back spending.

The solution: school choice.

The current plan in Detroit is to convert nearly a third of its public schools into privately run charter schools. These 41 schools under consideration enroll about 16,000 of the city’s 73,000 students and would operate as public school academies starting as soon as this fall.

Not only does this proposal have a good chance of improving student’s academic performance, it would also save the district millions of dollars and possibly prevent schools from closing in the city.

Michigan is already home to 250 charter schools serving more than 94,000 of its students. Academic success at these schools has so far been very favorable.

The Center for Education Reform states that Michigan students that attend charter schools have slightly higher proficiency rates than the 17 urban host districts from which they enrolled students. The data goes on to point out that in math, for example, “52 percent of African American students at charters scored proficient or advanced, while only 47.3 percent of non-charter students from the host districts achieved at this level.”

One of the most significant perks of charter schools are they give students and parents a choice.

“Charter schools give parents more options of where to send their child,” says Americans for Limited Government’s (ALG) Rick Manning. “Also, charter schools have more freedom from the many regulations of public schools. Charter schools allow students and teachers more authority to make decisions. Instead of being accountable to rules and regulations like public schools, charter schools are focused on the students and academic achievement and upholding their charter.”

Another big different between a charter and public school, most charter schools are not subject to a teachers union.

“About 95 percent of charter schools are non-union,” says Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA). This causes a lot of opposition from teachers unions. “Unions lose members,” he says whenever a new charter schools opens. “Every teacher in a charter school means one less union member and unions want more money. This can put a dent in union’s bottom line.”

And this will be the battle Michigan will have to fight.

The Wall Street Journal reports, “In Detroit, teachers in the new charter schools wouldn’t be covered under the current union contract, according to officials. But Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said any removal of teachers from the union’s current contract wouldn’t be legal under state law and ‘would not happen under my watch.’ ”

The plan for additional charter schools is currently left in the hands of the Detroit School Board, though Michigan state legislation is attempting to hand this authority over to the emergency financial managers in the state.

If Detroit is able to adopt this plan it is expected to save the district more than $99 million.

As a possible battle between Detroit’s teachers unions and the school district and possibly even the state gets underway, it is important to note that one reason this charter school plan is being closely evaluated is due to pension costs.

District spokesman Steve Wasko wrote in an email to the Wall Street Journal that pension costs were a major financial reason for the proposal.

Like Wisconsin, Michigan faces a similar battle with its public union employees. State budgets simply cannot support their pension systems.

If this proposal is not adopted and these schools in Detroit are not converted to charter schools it is likely they will close altogether in order to help eliminate the state’s deficit, costing teacher’s jobs and student’s educational opportunity.

Will unionized public teachers put the students first and be willing to forego their union membership and teach at a charter school, or will they fight tooth and nail like they did in Wisconsin and force these schools to close leaving students without a school or teacher?

The teachers should do what they were hired to do, and that is to teach and put the children first.


Brighter pupils may soon be allowed to skip a year or two in Britain

"Accelerating" bright pupils was once a common way of helping them but the Left look on it as a wicked denial of that treasured but chimerical "equality"

Bright pupils could be allowed to ignore GCSEs and start studying for A-levels at 14. The Education Secretary Michael Gove wants schools to fast-track the cleverest students as soon as they are ready.

Until now, schools would have been at risk of dropping down league tables if their brightest pupils did not take GCSEs. But the tables may be changed to reflect how many pupils bypass GCSEs to start on A-levels.

A Department for Education source said England should think about copying Singapore, where some 20 per cent of pupils take A-levels early.

‘We are considering much greater freedom for schools to accelerate bright kids past GCSEs to do either A-levels or pre-Us [an alternative to A-levels] and introducing league table measures that capture that and reward schools for it, not penalise them,’ the source told the Times Educational Supplement.

‘We want a system that doesn’t disincentivise schools from doing what they think is in the best interests of the kid. ‘If, for example, you said a group of pupils in the top set in maths were going to skip GCSE and go straight to AS-level [the first year of A-levels], then we want to make it clear that they have done a great job. At the moment, they would all score zero.’

The Department for Education confirmed ministers were considering the idea. Under separate plans, pupils aged six are to be made to read in front of school inspectors, it has emerged.

The random tests are part of fresh measures to raise literacy standards in primary schools after they failed to improve under Labour. And secondary school children will be tested too, with on-the-spot spelling and comprehension tests.

England’s chief inspector Christine Gilbert revealed the measures, which could come in next year, as part of plans to streamline school inspections and focus them on struggling schools.

But Christine Blower, of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘There is already enough accountability and assessment measures for reading and literacy.’


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