Missouri divorce case becomes part of home-schooling debate

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | 4:51 p.m. CDT

ST. CHARLES — A divorce case out of St. Charles County is getting swept up in a debate over home schooling because a judge could decide if a mother can still educate her two teenagers at home.

Lisa Payne-Naeger and her husband, Jeff Naeger, are divorcing. She has been home schooling the couple's 16-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter for several years. Jeff Naeger said he wants to enroll the children in private school.

About 40 of Payne-Naeger's supporters rallied outside of the St. Charles County Courthouse on Tuesday where the divorce trial began, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday.

Rally organizers distributed fliers saying: "Help us protect the right of all parents to determine the best education for their children." They said they believed the judge would be objective but had concerns about issues related to the case.

Payne-Naeger previously served as a board member for a public school district in the area, Francis Howell. She began home-schooling her children in 2001 while still on the board and has said she wants to continue.

Stephanie Rubach, of Concerned Women for America of Missouri, organized the rally, saying she and others wanted to make sure the law was followed. Speakers at the event objected to a court order that prevented either parent from talking to the children about the divorce case.

Another point of contention, speakers said, was a court-appointed guardian's efforts to have Payne-Naeger's teaching abilities tested. The guardian was assigned to represent the children's best interests in court.

Neither of the divorcing parties attended the rally, but the case has drawn attention through Payne-Naeger's speaking engagements and blog postings.

Payne-Naeger has said she wants other parents who home-school to be aware of what can happen in family court. She has been speaking to different groups about the issue, including a local meeting of Concerned Women for America, an organization that advocates for Christian values in public policy.

Payne-Naeger previously said she began home-schooling when she got a firsthand look at the problems facing public schools during her time on the school board.

"I have found it to be so much more rich and fulfilling and great for my children in ways I never imagined," the 48-year-old said. "They've had the opportunity to experience things they wouldn't have in a public or private school setting."

Jeff Naeger previously declined comment, other than to say, "I don't want to make a national issue out of this, even though it seems like Lisa does."

Inside the courthouse, attorneys said the case is not just about the education issue. "This is not a referendum on home schooling," said Joel Eisenstein, Payne-Naeger's attorney.

Deborah J. Tomich, Naeger's attorney, agreed. "This case isn't about the right to home-school a child," she said. Tomich said it was a divorce case in which the parties disagreed about how to educate the children.

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Clara Allen July 30, 2009 | 9:04 a.m.

What is it that makes Payne-Naeger believe that her wishes automatically supersede the wishes of the father of the children? It's not all about her and what she wants.

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