HOME SCHOOLING / INTERNATIONAL
France
France

October 6, 2009

German Homeschooled Children Seized by French Social Workers

Wunderlich children homeschool.
Courtesy of the family
The Wunderlich family holds school in their home. French authorities seized the four Wunderlich children after the family had fled Germany in order to homeschool without being harassed.

The plight of German homeschoolers may have gotten worse. Despite rules regarding the freedom of movement in the European Union, German government officials appear to have taken an unprecedented step of persuading French authorities to take four children from a family who fled Germany to France in order to escape persecution aimed at homeschoolers.

On Monday, September 28, two French social workers and two police officers appeared at the home of Dominique Chanal in Saint Léonard, France, where the Wunderlich family has resided since July. The Wunderlichs had “de-registered” their official place of residence from Germany and were officially resident in France. The Wunderlichs had previously been hiding from German youth welfare workers and court officials in order to continue homeschooling.

The four officials told a stunned Mrs. Wunderlich that they had come at the request of German authorities, and that they had to take the family’s four young children because they were “in grave danger.” Mr. Wunderlich was away at the time attending a French language class for unemployed immigrants. The stunned mother was incapable of responding to the intrusion, and when her husband asked her later whether the authorities had presented any documentation, she was unable to remember.

“Flight Risk…”

A copy of the report justifying immediate seizure of the children was obtained by HSLDA. The reasons given for the seizure were that the children were “socially isolated, not in school and that there was a ‘flight risk’ ”—none of which appear to be true.

This action underscores the extent to which Germany is persecuting homeschoolers and highlights the significance of the case involving another German homeschooling family, the Romeikes, who are seeking political asylum in the United States.

On December 16, immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman in Memphis, Tennessee, will decide the fate of the Romeike family. HSLDA hopes that the Romeikes will be granted political asylum, thus providing an escape route for other German homeschooling families like the Wunderlichs who are living in constant fear that their children will be taken away simply because they choose to homeschool.

The Wunderlichs’ landlady, Mrs. Chanal, with whom the family shares a large home, was shocked by the events. She told HSLDA that the family was very loving. She said that Mr. and Mrs. Wunderlich were very attentive to the education of their children, and that many neighborhood children played with the younger Wunderlichs.

“This is a terrible injustice,” said Mrs. Chanal “This is wonderful family. There are always children coming to the home to play with the children and my daughter. It is like a school in our house. Mrs. Wunderlich teaches her children every day with a formal school curriculum. At first I was a bit anxious opening my home to this family who had fled from Germany because of homeschooling, but after several months I see that they are a lovely family. These are very good parents who protect their children from dangers. They are better parents than most parents in France, because they do not let the children wander the streets or get involved in other bad behavior.”

Mrs. Chanal’s husband was an educator who understood that homeschooling was legal in France. Mrs. Chanal told HSLDA that these procedures were completely out of line with the allegations.

“No One Came to Investigate First…”

“My husband was an educator and he worked at the ‘aide social’ [France’s equivalent of the German Youth Welfare Office, and I never saw or heard of such a thing. Generally they would have an educator come to the home and they write a report. In this case, there was no one who came to investigate first.”

Wunderlich children play in their yard.
Courtesy of the family
The Wunderlich children play in their yard. The youths were taken from their parents in part, authorities said, because homeschooling supposedly kept them “socially isolated.”

Mrs. Chanal has given sworm testimony regarding these facts to local authorities.

Mr. Wunderlich said he told the village authorities that they would be homeschooling, and that he received no opposition.

“When we registered in the village the people were very friendly,” said Mr. Wunderlich “They asked if our children would go to school, and we said that, no, we would be teaching them using a German correspondence program in the German language. The village authorities were perfectly satisfied with this. I believe that this was an illegal act by the German Youth Welfare Office. We are no longer residents of Germany. As citizens of the European Union we have the right to free mobility, and we are complying French education laws. The Germans should leave us alone.”

Convicted and Fined

The family had been convicted of homeschooling by a court in Darmstadt, Germany, in 2006. They were fined several hundred euros. They knew that it was only a matter of time before authorities threatened them with the removal of their children, something that has happened to a number of homeschooling families in Germany and a major reason the Romeikes chose to seek political asylum in the United States.

In an attempt to avoid German authorities, for several years the Wunderlich family moved between France and Germany. While visiting their hometown of Darstadt, however, they were contacted by the Youth Welfare authorities, who ordered them to appear at their office on March 9, 2009. The family knew their children were likely to be taken, so they packed up all of their belongings and left. Eventually they took up residence with Dominique Chanal.

After their children were taken by French authorities, Mr. and Mrs. Wunderlich contacted their lawyers in Germany. Armin Eckermann, president of Schuzh, a German organization involved in defending homeschoolers in Germany, contacted the Youth Welfare Office.

Mr. Eckermann reported to HSLDA that the German authorities denied informing the French about the Wunderlich family. The family is being represented now by a local French attorney, Valerie Billamboz.

After three days the parents were allowed to see their children and expressed their heartbreak at being separated from them.

“Today we have seen the children. It was terrible. My daughter was a completely another person I have never seen and known. Something in her has broken. All the children are apathic. The social workers told us that the reason they took our children was because they ‘have no contact with other children, that school education is guaranteed and that you are a risk of escape.’ But this is nonsense, as anyone who knows our family can tell.”

HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly, who is familiar with several similar cases, shared his concern about what appears to be an increase in the number of homeschooling families who are encountering severe treatment all over Europe.

“Counter to All the Evidence…”

“We are concerned about the increase in negative treatment of homeschoolers in Europe. This apparent trend is counter to all the evidence that shows that homeschooling is effective both academically and socially. Because homeschoolers in Europe are relatively few, it is important that homeschoolers in America encourage and support them.”

Donnelly noted that a recent decision by a local family court in Germany to not immediately take custody of a 14-year-old boy from homeschooling parents was an exception.

“We are glad to hear that the family court judge deciding the Schmidt case in Bavaria, Germany, did not take custody away from the parents but rather ordered and educational evaluation before taking further steps,” said Donnelly. “The fact that the boy is a teenager and represented by his own attorney were unusual factors that influenced this case. We wish more family court judges would exercise this more sensible approach to evaluating custody decisions that involve home education. Unfortunately, the norm in Germany is the opposite. German legislators and policy makers need to take immediate action to change Germany’s hostile stance towards homeschooling.”

In another story reflecting Germany’s harsh attitude towards homeschoolers, a re-trial has been scheduled for the parents who were each previously sentenced to 90 days in prison for homeschooling their children. Juergen and Rosemarie Dudek of Archfeldt, Germany, parents to seven homeschooled children, were sentenced to prison for not sending their children to public school but instead homeschooling them. The sentence was overturned on procedural grounds and a new trial was ordered. After the state prosecutor in the case attempted to unsuccessfully recuse the judge assigned to the case a new trial has been ordered for November 16, 2009.

“We Are Standing Firm…”

The Dudeks are confident of the results.

“We are standing firm knowing that God is protecting us. We believe that we have the right to homeschool our children. We ask for others to pray for us and for all German homeschoolers who are striving to have freedom to exercise their basic human right to provide for the education of their children.”

The behavior of German and French authorities foreshadows what American parents can expect if the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is ever ratified by the Senate. Go to ParentalRights.org for more info about the efforts to prevent its adoption and to protect parent’s rights by a constitutional amendment.

HSLDA continues to be involved in supporting the plight of persecuted homeschoolers abroad. To learn more about international homeschooling and these stories visit HSLDA’s International Page.