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June 3, 2011

An American Homeschool Leader Goes to Europe

by Mike Chapa

Swedish homeschooling families.
Homeschooling families with the Swedish homeschool support organization, ROHUS.

My wife, Tonya, and I flew to Stockholm in April of 2011. We first stayed with the Angerstig family near Uppsala. The Angerstigs are members of ROHUS, the Swedish Association for Home Education. Lisa is an American and her husband, Per, is Swedish. Mike Donnelly, international attorney for HSLDA, helped arrange our meeting with several ROHUS members.

HSLDA also helped fly Christer Johansson up from the island of Gotland, off the southeastern coast of Sweden, for our meeting. His son, Domenic, is the one who was snatched by authorities in September 2009, when the family tried to move to India, the country of his mother, Annie. Christer was sent to jail for two months late last year for violating the visitation agreement with his son, which was very sparse (a couple of hours every few weeks). For the four months previous to our meeting, Christer had not left the house, and this trip proved to be an encouraging time for him to be among like-minded folks and enjoy an unusually warm springtime day. You can read more about the fight for Domenic on the Friends of Domenic website and HSLDA’s Sweden page.

The leader of ROHUS, Jonas Himmelstrand, also attended and is very active in other areas of human rights in Sweden. He said, “I enjoyed meeting both of you very much today. Both Tamara and I got very much out of meeting you. Just for me, I feel strengthened in my role—it is amazing how important this is when living in a relatively hostile political climate.”

The municipalities of Sweden (called kommuns) are the local government bodies. These municipal governments are responsible for a large portion of local services like schools and emergency services. These local governments have great say in who can homeschool, at what age they can homeschool, and how they can homeschool. Further, all of these decisions seem to vary from kommun to kommun, year to year, and family to family, which results in a confusing and somewhat chaotic approach to the legality of homeschooling in the country.

From left, American homeschooler Mike Chapa meets with ROHUS President Jonas Himmelstrand and Christer Johannson, whose son was snatched by Swedish authorities in 2009.

From left, Tonya Chapa, Tamara Himmelstrand, Lisa Angerstig, and Dorit.

There seems to be special resistance to homeschooling older children, desiring them to be socialized into the public school and wider culture. But, as several families told us, even younger children may be approved for homeschooling one year and disapproved the next year with little to no justification. In some families, approval is granted for one child and not a sibling, with little rhyme or reason given. As you can imagine, this leads to frustration and, if non-compliance occurs, the families can face fines or worse. Thanks to HSLDA and others in the international community, attention has been drawn to Sweden. We are hopeful that international pressure will cause Sweden to reconsider these vacillating policies and respect the fundamental right of parents to choose the education model of their choice for their children.

After staying with the Angerstigs, we journeyed further north and inland in Sweden to a Christian family that my wife, Tonya, has been corresponding with for six years. They prefer to remain anonymous, but were convicted last year for spanking/abusing their children after being turned in by their private Christian school which is affiliated with their church. Thankfully, we just learned they have been found not guilty on appeal and cleared of all charges. Like most of the persecuted homeschoolers we met in the town of Uppsala, this family was reluctant to share their story even with their family and friends (and definitely not the media) due to a sense of keeping their honor. Perhaps this is why we hear so little of these cases in America.

English Homeschoolers

Mike Chapa with Pooyan and Becky Mehrshahi and their children.
Mike Chapa with Pooyan and Becky Mehrshahi and their children, who homeschool in Cheltenham, England.

We also spent time in England and stayed with the Dr. John Magee family, longtime homeschooling friends of ours who live in Salisbury. We went to Bath, England and met up with an Iranian Christian pastor, Pooyan Mehrshahi. He and his family homeschool in Cheltenham, England. Pooyan left Iran 20 years ago and never returned, went to seminary, and is doing translation work in Farsi for Christian works. We had the privilege of meeting up with some homeschoolers in Ireland as well.

We also met with the Norman Wells and Dale Roberts families, two other strong homeschooling families in the U.K. A couple of years ago, there was mounting pressure from the Badman Report to seriously curtail homeschool freedoms in the U.K. Norman Wells is at the forefront of the political battle to keep homeschooling freedoms alive and well. He is the director of the Family Education Trust, a charity dedicated to promoting stable family life and the welfare of children. You can read more about this story on HSLDA’s United Kingdom page.

As we traveled around, it became even more apparent to us how important it is to band together in the fight for fundamental parental rights and freedoms. As such, we are so thankful for Mike Donnelly’s steadfast efforts in the battle for our children in America and abroad. Additionally, my wife and I are very thankful to our church, Reformation Church of Castle Rock, Colorado, for supporting much of this trip. We must all remember not to take for granted the freedoms we enjoy in America—no doubt, we would not have as much freedom in our country if it were not for Mike Farris and Mike Smith. Please continue to support HSLDA as they support international homeschoolers, and lift up these suffering saints who are far from our homes, but close to our hearts.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Mike Chapa is the executive director of the Christian Home Educators of Colorado. He and his wife, Tonya, traveled to Europe in April 2011 to encourage homeschoolers.