With the increase in neuroscience-based literature and educational opportunities directed to current and upcoming legal professionals, such as the upcoming ABA and AALS Neuroscience and Law webinar and the “Law & the Brain” course at Vanderbilt University Law School, individuals at all levels, with or without science backgrounds, have the opportunity to become aware of emerging neuroscience issues. The case today illustrates the results of just that. In the case today, regarding educational placement of a minor, the guardian ad litem of the child testified and recommended that the child be placed in public school rather than home school based on the knowledge she had gleaned from seminars she attended and literature she had come across regarding adolescent brain development. Although admittedly not an expert in the field of brain development, the trial court relied in part on her recommendation in ordering that the child be enrolled in public school. The court here affirms.
Public Versus Home Schooling, Brain Development Theory
In the Matter of Kurowski, 2011 WL 976509 (N.H. 2011).
Respondent, mother, appeals an order from the family court granting the request of the father of her child to compel enrollment of their child in public school. In his request, the father stated that his daughter was being home-schooled through a program that is affiliated with the mother’s church, and that the education, religion, and social environment is detrimental to his daughter’s welfare. He explained that the daughter is withdrawn and has difficulty integrating with others, and requested that she be placed in public school. To resolve such matters, the trial court appointed a “guardian ad litem” (GAL) to represent the daughter’s best interests and recommend changes to the current parenting plan. In opining to the trial court that the daughter should be placed in public school, the GAL testified that although she was not an expert on brain development, she had researched the subject of adolescent brain development and attended seminars, and had learned that the human brain undergoes tremendous changes during adolescence. She testified that the literature explains that “the repeated stimulation of brain connections causes areas of the brain to become strengthened, while not using areas of the brain causes them to wither away” and that this “to [her], implicates how a child should be spending their time.” The mother here argues on appeal that the trial court erred in ordering her daughter be placed in public school “based exclusively on the unqualified opinion testimony of the [GAL] who admitted she is not a brain expert . . . yet testified regarding adolescent brain development and [daughter’s] future educational needs.” Here, the court finds that the trial court did not err. The court reasoned that there is nothing to suggest that the trial court considered the GAL’s statements as those of a qualified expert (especially since she admitted to not being one), the trial court’s decision to place the child in public school was not based exclusively on the GAL’s testimony, and the foundation of GAL’s testimony was based upon more than just her adolescent brain development research.