Thanks to a court ruling that may mark a legal turning point, German homeschool parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich no longer face the immediate threat of having their children taken by the state—again.
The ruling counterbalances news that the Wunderlichs will not receive justice from one of Europe’s highest courts.
This week the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) officially rejected an appeal of the lower chamber’s decision that German officials did not violate the Wunderlichs’ rights during a 2013 raid of the family home.
During that incident, 20 police officers, special agents and child protective services investigators stormed the Wunderlichs’ house in Darmstadt, Germany and forcibly removed Dirk and Petra’s four children. The sole grounds for removal was that the children were being homeschooled. They were returned to their parents several weeks later.
Dirk explained his frustration with the ECHR’s refusal to reconsider the lower court’s ruling.
“It’s a real shame that the five-judge panel rejected our request for referral,” he said. “Because this request once again put the crux of our case in a nutshell, I had once again gained hope. But this last decision shows all the more that we are dealing with the opposite of what the court’s name suggests. But we are grateful for the work of our lawyers at ADF International and HSLDA. We hope German lawmakers will make changes in the coming years to recognize homeschooling. What happened to our family should never happen again.”
ADF International’s Robert Clark, with whom I have worked in advocating for the Wunderlichs, insisted the ECHR’s rejection will not end our quest for homeschool freedom in Germany.
“It’s frustrating that the grand chamber didn’t even give a reason for denying our appeal,” he said. “The court has allowed the flawed lower chamber decision to stand. We disagree with the court and will be looking for other cases to bring to the court as we continue to seek justice for families like the Wunderlichs who are being maltreated over their decision to homeschool.”
The ECHR had noted an admission by German authorities that the Wunderlich children were not being harmed: “The knowledge level of the children was not alarming and the children were not being kept from school against their will.”
This characterization of homeschooling as something the authorities needed to rescue the children from was exposed as especially misguided by statements from the Wunderlich children during their latest custody hearing. Both of the children who are still school age told the court they enjoyed being homeschooled and vastly preferred it to a rigid, government-mandated education.
“I am not ready to attend a public school simply because German judges cannot imagine for me to be educated in a different way. I will not tolerate being forcefully taken and locked up,” wrote one of the children in a letter to the judge. A sibling wrote, “I just want to live and learn in peace with my family without the constant fear of being torn apart like in 2009 and in 2013. I went to a public school for a year and definitely did not enjoy it.”
Glimmer of Hope
The desires of the Wunderlichs’ children reflect those of many families across Germany. Fortunately, recent court decisions like the Wunderlichs’ custody battle offer a glimmer of hope.
So far this year in Germany, there have been about four cases where courts have chosen to rebuff the efforts of child protective services to take custody of homeschooled children. The courts ruled that in these particular cases homeschooling in itself was not a danger.
Though it is far too early to call these few cases a trend toward more freedom for homeschooling in Germany, we certainly welcome them as a positive outcome. And we hope to build on these rulings as we continue to advocate in Germany—and other nations where homeschooling families are persecuted.
As HSLDA President Mike Smith explained, we are committed to helping these families because what happens to them affects homeschoolers everywhere.
“These people are just like us—they want to do what is best for their kids,” he said. “Homeschooling works. It’s a great option for those who choose it, and these families in other countries are really just part of our extended family. When they hurt—we hurt. When they are attacked, it’s like we are being attacked. We have to do what we can—and there are things we can do—to help them.”
Smith said that the challenges homeschool families in other countries are facing are similar to the battles for homeschool freedom we endured here in the U.S. Then he added a warning.
“History can repeat itself,” he insisted. “What is happening in these other countries also happened here. There are a lot of people who don’t agree with what we are doing—they want to restrict our freedoms. American homeschoolers should be concerned about what is happening to these folks and realize that it wasn’t too long ago that some us had to face these same obstacles. We overcame them here, but we have to work really hard to defend that freedom.”
You can help defend freedom and make homeschooling possible everywhere. As a member of HSLDA you are part of a strong movement ready to act. You are invited to join HSLDA or make a donation to support our work defending freedom.