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September 15, 2008

Highs And Lows Of Two Families Illustrate Challenges For Homeschoolers

Last week, the German Youth Welfare authorities, “the Jugendamt”, in Baden-Wurttemburg allowed all of the Gorbers’ children to return and remain at home until a September 25 family court hearing. The family is overjoyed that their children are home and are hopeful that at the hearing the Family Court judge will return custody of the children permanently.

The children, who have all been homeschooled from their earliest years, are now attending a local public school. The Jugendamt had attempted to require that the children attend “special schools” that were a long distance from their home. This would have supported the Jugendamt’s case for continued custody and residence of the children in the youth homes which are near the “special schools.”

The judge has demonstrated an even hand in the case, ordering that the children be allowed to enjoy summer holidays with their family—over the objection of the Jugendamt. However, the judge has also been clear that he will not tolerate homeschooling, putting the family in a difficult position. A website that follows educational freedom for homeschoolers in Germany has created a petition that will be presented to the judge prior to the September 25 hearing. Click here to view the petition.

In Archfeldt, Hesse, Juergen and Rosemarie Dudek have already been sentenced to 90 days in prison each for homeschooling. The Dudeks report that local school officials have initiated a new set of criminal charges against them for homeschooling.

A growing body of evidence shows that homeschooled children score higher than public school students on standardized tests, and that homeschoolers become productive and integrated members of society. German government officials in schools, law enforcement and the Jugendamt continue to aggressively persecute homeschoolers by fining them thousands of dollars, taking their children and sentencing them to prison.

A recent member of a German homeschool network wrote to the country’s top education official, Dr. Annette Schavan, asking that the topic of homeschooling be put on the agenda for a national conference of state education leaders. He was told “The topic would not be discussed because it is impossible to homeschool in Germany.”

The Gorber family personally experienced the raw power of the German government when six of their children were viciously seized by the Jugendamt and taken without parental knowledge or consent in January of this year. The Gorbers are longtime homeschoolers. The Jugendamt apparently took advantage of the mother’s admission to a hospital, as a result of pregnancy related complications, to seize the children on a day when Mr. Gorber was visiting his wife. The children were then held in youth homes for nearly six months, with minimal visitation from their family. Finally, a German Family Court judge ordered the return of their 3-year-old son but allowed the school-age children to remain in Jugendamt custody at the homes. International awareness of this case has increased and, like the case of Melissa Busekros in 2007, may have something to do with the way the authorities have been easing their control over the children.

HSLDA has been in contact with advocates for the Gorber family and has asked its members to pray for the Gorbers and write them letters of encouragement. The family recently wrote HSLDA, expressing appreciation for the support they have received.

“We thank you very much for all your prayers, letters, greetings and thoughts to us in our trials,” the Gorbers wrote. “Every day we receive a great number of letters from America (today there were nearly twenty) and so we see how many persons are praying for us and write us. This is very encouraging, and we feel a great peace and trust in the Lord.”

Juergen and Rosemary Dudek report the same appreciation: “We are so grateful for the support of American homeschoolers and HSLDA. Knowing that there are fellow homeschoolers thinking and praying for us gives great peace. We know that we have been chosen to fight this battle. We try to do the best for our children, and we want to be able to stay in Germany and not to leave, so we will continue to fight as long as we can for our right to homeschool.”

The Dudeks have applied for a second time for status as a private school in Germany. “We are open to working with the authorities to be able to figure out what is the best way for us to educate our children under the law,” said Mr. Dudek. “But they have simply drawn a hard line and refused to work with us.”

In the Dudek case, the local school authority wrote a letter threatening to inform the local Jugendamt about the family’s activities if Dudek children were not in school by August 31. The family has continued to homeschool their children as they appeal their criminal conviction and prepare to fight another criminal prosecution.