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January 25, 2007

French Victory

By Rebekah Pizana

“The freedom of teaching is not threatened any more,” Le Collectif Pour la Liberté d’Instruction,1 an association of French homeschool advocates, announced on January 11, 2007. French homeschooling families won an important legal battle for their rights when two amendments to limit homeschooling were withdrawn from a bill in the French Parliament in early January.

Although homeschooling is currently allowed in France, these amendments would have essentially outlawed homeschooling. Describing the proposed amendments as “draconian,” HSLDA Senior Counsel and Director of International Relations Christopher Klicka pointed out that if they passed, “no parent would have been allowed to homeschool unless they showed that the health or handicap of their child made it necessary for him or her to be taught at home. But even then, if a family could even prove they had a health issue or some other ‘serious’ reason to justify their homeschool, they would then have to submit to a home visit by a government official each year. Also, their curriculum would be either provided by the National Center of Correspondence Teaching (CNED) or by an approved private correspondence school.”

In reaction to the proposed amendments, two non-religious French homeschooling organizations, Les Enfants d’Abord [LED’A] and Libre d’Apprendre et d’Instruire Autrement, formed the Le Collectif Pour la Liberté d’Instruction [LAIA]. Representing a total of 550 families, the Collectif was actively lobbying against the bill as early as mid-December 2006. The group also set up a website to petition the French government, and gathered over 2,000 signatures. “It is with us, parents, that the decision of the mode of instruction of our children rests,” the petition states. “The freedom of teaching is a constitutional right.”

Philippe Bas, the French Minister of the Family, also stepped out in opposition to the amendments. “As they are, I am not favorable to these amendments, I find them too restrictive,” Bas announced on the French Radio Monte-Carlo early Tuesday morning, January 9. “We must allow parents who, for instance, have three young children, a mother who is willing to take care of them and if they have decided to teach them to read-write-count-if that is their choice of living—provided that we can verify that the educational job is well done, then that freedom must be preserved.”

In early January, Janet N., an American homeschooling parent, notified HSLDA of the impending bill and put Katie Schlaak, legal assistant to Christopher Klicka, in contact with her daughter-in-law in France, a stay-at-home mom and homeschool graduate.

Klicka agreed with Bas’ analysis of the amendments. “HSLDA immediately wrote an email to our members, and within a couple of days hundreds of calls and emails started pouring in to the French Embassy,” he said. “In an incredible turnaround of events, the sponsor of the restrictive amendments, which would have outlawed homeschooling, withdrew his amendments. We believe that the international outcry played a pivotal role in helping secure this victory.”

“HSLDA believes that every battle for parental rights is significant and we wanted to stand with the French homeschoolers to convey our solidarity,” Klicka continued. “I personally count it a privilege to support their efforts. This is another example how homeschoolers can help make a difference to preserve homeschool freedoms in other countries by contacting embassies.”

The sponsors of the amendments, French Parliament members Georges Fenech and Philippe Vuilque, withdrew Amendments 127 and 128 of the Protection de L’Enfance (Protection of the Children) bill on January 10.

After the withdrawal of the amendments, a representative of the French Embassy called Klicka who sent the e-lert and informed him of the change. The French official told Klicka that they “were blindsided by the controversy brought to their attention by hundreds of phone calls and emails, so we quickly contacted Paris.” He also remarked the callers were very polite and expressed concern France would become another Germany if they outlawed homeschooling.

Klicka pointed out the importance of the French homeschoolers’ victory in light of the European Court of Human Rights decision in Konrad and others v. Germany (2006) to enforce Adolf Hitler’s mandatory school attendance policy. “Germany is now the only country in the European Union where homeschooling is illegal,” Klicka said.

Homeschool advocates estimate that the number of children being taught at home (by their parents or through correspondence schools) is close to 30,000. Home education is currently legal with annual inspections which evaluate whether the parents’ teaching satisfies the child’s right to an education. A decree requires that certain subjects be covered and the teaching must allow the children to gradually reach a level comparable to that of children in public or state-approved schools.

1Collective for the Freedom of Instruction.