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Judge takes heat for home school ruling

March 17, 2009 2:53:57 PM PDT
In a case that's gaining national attention, a Wake County judge ruled Tuesday that a woman must share custody of her three children with her estranged husband and can no longer home school them.Click here to read the court ruling (.pdf)

Advocates of homeschooling have characterized the case as a challenge to parent's rights to home school their children, but court documents released Tuesday show the woman's family is concerned about her relationship with a small Washington State based church that critics characterize as a cult.

Venessa Mills has homeschooled her children - who are 10, 11 and 12 years old - for the past four years. Her supporters point out that the children have routinely tested 2 years above their grade level.

They've even set up a website called homeschoolliberty.com "Dedicated to preserving the freedom of homeschoolers in America for future generations."

The website creator writes that after hearing about the case that "I suddenly realized that if I do not stand up and take action I will lose my parental right to teach my children according to my own beliefs and convictions."

But according to court documents, the case doesn't just center around homeschooling. Estranged husband Thomas Mills claims the couple began to grow apart after she joined the Sound Doctrine Church led by Tim and Carla Williams.

During court proceedings, Tina Wasik, a former member of the church, characterized it as a cult and testified under oath that "Sound Doctrine is not a healthy place to grow up. It is run by fear and manipulation."

Other former members gave sworn court statements that church leader Tim Williams made inappropriate sexual comments about girls as young as 4.

Former member Jessica Gambill testified that "After I joined Sound Doctrine, Tim Williams told me that my oldest daughter (then age 12) was the kind of girl that men would take advantage of, that my middle daughter (then age 7) was the kind of girl that would sleep with any guy, and that my youngest daughter (age 4) was the kind of girl that would use her looks to seduce men."

All the accusations against the Sound Doctrine Church and its leaders made by former members were denied in affidavits filed by Venessa Mills' attorney.

In a temporary custody order issued Tuesday, Judge Ned Mangum found that Venessa Mills' own parents were concerned for the welfare of their grandchildren because of her relationship with the church and testified that she was "very domineering" with her kids.

Dawn Lewis, Venessa Mills' mother, testified how her grandchild looked fearful in Venessa's presence. The court records also say that the children were in daily contact with Sound Doctrine church member via webcam during time set aside for school instruction.

In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Mangum says that Thomas Mills has the right as a parent to expose his children to other points of view, and that the Mills never agreed to home school their children indefinitely. He ordered that the children be placed in Wake County public schools starting next year.

For home school advocates who've said that Mangum is trying to strip Venessa Mills of her right to home school her children, the judge wrote that the court "clearly recognizes the value of home school - and any effort to characterize it differently is incorrect."

"It is Mr. Mills' request to re-enroll these children back into the public school system and expose them and challenge them to more than just Venessa Mills' viewpoint," he continued.

While he's ordering the children into public school, he's not ordering Venessa Mills to stop teaching them about her religion.

"Contrary to Ms. Mills' requested belief, this Court can not and will not infringe upon either party's write to practice their own religion and expose their children to the same."

The order also says neither parent is allowed to leave the state and he ordered Venessa Mills to undergo a mental health assessment because of the concerns expressed by her family.


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