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July 22, 2009

German Homeschoolers Seek Asylum in America—Video Translation

This is an unofficial translation of the Romeike family story that appeared on a national German talkshow hosted by Guenther Jauch on Stern TV.

Host: As amazing as it sounds, there are Germans who are asking for asylum in the USA. Why? That is not a known fact. There are no statistics on this. However, Hedrun Stangenberg and Jan… are now reporting about the Romeike family, a family of seven that has appealed for asylum in the USA and is already living there. The reason for this is that their children should not go to public school but be homeschooled. Exactly this is strictly illegal here in Germany.

A German family flees to the USA….

Mrs. Romeike: “We have been told over and over again to go where you can homeschool.”

It is about five children who are not going to school. Their parents want to educate them at home.

Mr. Romeike: “We care about the heart, the soul, about the inner person of each of our children.”

The parents are appealing for asylum in the USA. So far this is a unique case. They feel threatened in Germany.

Mrs. R. “When this thing with the police happened, I was very concerned. They wanted to discuss the removal of the right to care on this very same day.”

Morristown, a small town in Tennessee, 25,000 inhabitants, many churches, many yards well taken care of, Wagon Drive. This is where father Uwe, mother Hannelore and their five children are now living.

Mr. R. “Why we came to America? Because in Germany more and more people have to go to prison for doing it, or their children are being taken away or they are charged such high fines that they cannot live anymore.”

It is 8:30 on a Thursday, school begins in their own four walls. The parents think this is normal.

Mr. R. “We help the child to walk, we help the child to talk and it is very harmonious to continue when the child gets older. We help him with reading and writing and with arithmetic.”

From Monday through Friday they have a core curriculum: two hours of math, two hours of reading and writing and then studying new English vocabulary. The 7-year-old Christian sits in the children’s room, Josua, 9 years old, is studying in his parent’s bedroom, 11-year-old Lydia works on her bed and 12-year-old Daniel is doing math in the living room. Their material is specifically homeschool curriculum for the education at home. The parents are music teachers, but they are teaching all subjects.

Mrs. R. “Many things they are doing very independently after we have explained it to them, then they go to their rooms and do it. The English and math program that the older ones are doing is written directly to the student. What the teacher normally explains is explained in the book and they can read it themselves. If they don’t understand it, they come to us.”

The children often correct themselves with an answer key.

Reporter: “Do you correct your own problems?”

Josua: “Yes.”

Reporter: “That means you can cheat, right?”

Josua: “No, I do this for everything.”

Movement is also important. That’s why the family runs around their big property several times each day.

The two older children used to go to a normal school. Daniel experienced fights and quarrels, Lydia had trouble studying.

Reporter: “What did you tell your parents?”

Lydia: “That I don’t like going to school. It was too loud…. I used to get bad headaches and tummy aches because of all the noise.”

In addition, the faith in God plays a major role in the family.

The parents experienced the teaching and training of the children in the public school as totally anti-Christian.

Mr. R. “We have not found anything in public school that the Bible teaches us.”

Mrs. R. “I was in the ‘ethics’ class…. First there was Islam, then Buddhism and all other religions, and then they put down the Christian faith.”

In 2006 the parents hear the first time about homeschooling. They get information on the internet. The idea to teach their own children is appealing to them. The only problem for them is that it is illegal in Germany. Nevertheless, they pull their children out in the summer of 2006 and they hope for tolerance. But the ministry of education is responding promptly; they are sending fines. The opposing sides are taking position. The ministry of education writes: “The education department will not be accepting homeschooling in the future and will take appropriate measures….”

Mrs. R. “When you go against what the state wants and what politics is aiming at, you find out what pressure they put on and to what measures they are willing to go in order to reach their goals.”

The children are taken forcefully to school by police.The children are remembering.

Boy: “At first, Dad did not want to let them in. And then the police said that they would get a locksmith and have the door broken if we didn’t let them in.”

Lydia: “Then the police officer yelled at my Mom and tore my school pack out of her hand.”

Boy: “I was so scared that we would be brought somewhere else and put into prison.”

Mrs. R. “They all started to cry and then were transported to school crying. At recess I went and got them again.”

This police action shocked the family.

Mrs. R. “That was one reason why I said that we cannot stay at this place any longer. It is nice here; I was born here; we love it here, but we cannot stay because of these experiences. The fear is too deep-seated.”

In August 2008, the Romeikes are renting their self-built house in Bissingen and are fleeing to the USA. They land in Morristown, Tennessee, where they rent a duplex for $500 a month. They live off their savings and their rental income.

The contact to America came about through this man, Michael Donnelly. He works for an American homeschooling organization and knows the situation of the Romeike family.

He is an attorney and says: “This is enough reason to appeal for asylum.”

Donnelly: “It is unusual that someone would seek asylum because of homeschooling, but the law in the U.S. is for everyone who feels persecuted in their homeland. When you immigrate legally, you can appeal for political asylum.”

Homeschooling in the USA is not a problem. A recent newspaper article says that in the meantime, about every 20th child in the USA is homeschooled. Also worldwide, homeschooling is not a reason for worry. It is legal in all English-speaking countries.

Also in Europe it is mostly possible. Only in Germany it is illegal.

The Romeikes had contact with other homeschooling families. Together, they organize field trips—such as today. They went to a farm—biology 101. Communication works great. The five German children are already speaking English fluently.

For the freedom to teach their own children the Romeikes have sacrificed a lot, first of all a secure income. The father made good money as a piano teacher and pianist. In order to have the money for moving, he had to sell his concert grand pianos.

Mr. R. “We had to give up a lot. It is obviously a step you need to make after good consideration. To give up your livelihood in order to go to a country where you don’t know how it will go…. We are not economic refugees.”

At this time the Romeikes do not want to go back to Germany. There the children would have to go to school. Whether their asylum appeal will be granted is not sure at this point. Also, for the U.S. this is a completely new case.

Donnelly: “I think there is a chance. We don’t know how the court is going to view all this because there is nothing comparable at this time. It is the first time that homeschoolers are seeking political asylum.”

The Romeikes are hoping that their case will shake up the German authorities, because they would have loved to stay in Germany.

Host: “The court in Memphis, Tennessee will decide on December 16 whether or not this family’s request will be granted. Also, this right to asylum would be permanent and not depend whether or not homeschooling would ever become legal in Germany. If you are interested in arguments for or against homeschooling you can go to the internet.”