Arguing that homeschooling damages children and is an abuse of parental authority, a German district court in Darmstadt transferred the custody rights of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich’s four children to the Jugendamt, Germany’s child protective agency.
Judge Markus Malkmus followed the case law of the two high court cases on the subject of homeschooling, Konrad and Paul Plett. The district court ruled that the general public has an interest in counteracting the development of parallel societies and that religious or ethnic minorities must be “integrated” through schools. The judge also stated that the academic competency of the children was irrelevant because it is the state’s responsibility to insure that children are socialized in state-approved public or private schools.
The Wunderlichs returned to Germany after years of seeking a home in almost half a dozen other European countries. HSLDA wrote about the family when they were snatched by French social workers in 2009 over homeschooling. The children were returned shortly after.
Wunderlich explained: “When she returned our children, the French judge told us: ‘You can homeschool here, that is your good right.&rsquo”
Dirk Wunderlich, a gardener, has sent scores of job applications looking for work. He has moved his family to several European countries including France, Norway and Hungary in search of a place to live and work peacefully and to homeschool. However, after no success in finding work outside Germany, the family was forced to return to their home in Hessen, Germany.
“We lived abroad for years and found acceptance in a number of other countries. The French were especially nice and tolerant of our homeschooling,” Wunderlich said. “But there just wasn’t any work to be had, so after moving to Norway and even Hungary, we have come back to Germany. We hoped we could homeschool without being found out. But neighbors turned us in after just a few months. I requested to meet with the school to get them to permit us to homeschool but they rejected our request for a meeting.”
Hessen is where Juergen and Rosemary Dudek have struggled with the courts for years, most recently losing a trial court decision. The Dudeks are waiting to hear from Germany’s constitutional court on another case that could decide whether Hessen’s laws that criminally convict homeschoolers are too vague. Although the threat of a custody action hangs over the Dudeks, who have met with their local Jugendamt office, to this point in their case custody rights have not been an official issue. Dudek hosts a blog for freedom of education, Der Blaue Brief, and has written about the Wunderlich family.
For the Wunderlichs, however, the news that their custody rights had been transferred was devastating. Because of the court’s transfer of custody to the government the Wunderlichs are effectively imprisoned in Germany since they cannot take their children out of the country without permission.
“We don’t have passports, and even if we did, we could not leave,” Dirk says. “Our children are now under the control of the state. We can’t leave without the state’s permission.”
A letter from the Jugendamt after the judgment informed the family that immediate removal of the children would not occur. However, Dirk Wunderlich believes that this will be the inevitable result:
“I received a letter from the Jugendamt in which they told me that they do not wish to enforce court’s decision by doing terrible things such as taking the children away from us. But they told me that the children must go to school. We are very saddened by the way our country treats us. Our nerves are black and short, and we are very tired by the pressure. I don’t understand my own country. What are we doing wrong? We are just doing what should be allowed to anyone.”
Wunderlich contacted HSLDA Director for International Relations Michael Donnelly about the situation.
“This points out the need for a legislative solution in Germany for homeschooling,” Donnelly said. Germany’s highest courts have made it virtually impossible for people to legally homeschool. “Homeschooling is a legitimate form of education—Germany’s oppression of people who do it violates their obligation to protect their citizen’s most basic human rights.”
Donnelly said that Germany’s laws deter thousands of its citizens from home education:
“There are thousands of German families who would homeschool if they could without risking the custody of their children. Hundreds do today but face the constant threat of persecution. It is unacceptable that a country like Germany would treat parents like this. State legislators in Germany need to act in the face of this crisis. Germany has a leadership role in the world, and its behavior in this area does not measure up to its otherwise fine reputation. In the area of educational freedom Germany is grossly derelict and oppressive.”
Wunderlich is looking for international support and help.
“I am just one person, and I cannot fight against the power of the state even though I must for my children’s sake,” he said. “We need help from others. I have asked HSLDA to inform the UN special rapporteur on education. We have no choice but to fight, because we feel it is our duty to homeschool our children.