Germany’s constitutional court has dealt a serious blow to families who hoped for more freedom to homeschool.
In the case decided November 14, the high court refused to strike down or reinterpret a state statute that imposes criminal penalties if parents do not send their children to school. The case involved a family from the state of Hesse in central Germany.
The family has educated their children at home in defiance of the law and has been in court for years, facing fines and other criminal sanctions. They have persisted, however, and some of their children have earned the highest marks on Germany’s high school competency examinations, demonstrating the quality of the education they received.
However, the high German court reiterated its reasoning from previous decisions in which it accuses homeschooling of creating parallel societies and says that children can only learn to be good citizens in schools. The court stated that minorities must be integrated into the mainstream, and it is through the public oversight of the compulsory education system by which this must be done.
Looking to Legislation
HSLDA Director of Global Outreach Michael Donnelly, who is going on a mission to Germany this week, says that it is unlikely that courts will ever grant relief to the German homeschooling movement.
“Decision after decision has gone against homeschoolers in Germany,” Donnelly said. “The German homeschool movement is unlikely to win its liberty from courts—especially if they uphold such constrained views of parental rights and educational freedom. German state legislatures are the key to homeschooling freedom in Germany. That is why I have been working with German homeschoolers to get out the facts that homeschooling works and isn’t a threat to society. German homeschoolers are dealing with a very hostile environment where there are lots of stereotypes—very similar to the early days of homeschooling in America. Although some German academics and policy makers have dared to speak out in favor of more liberty for homeschooling, more leadership is needed from German lawmakers,” he said.
Donnelly expects to engage with German education officials to discuss the treatment of homeschoolers in Germany and to propose solutions to what seems an increasingly intractable problem—continued repression of homeschooling.
“With a population of over 80 million people, there should not be just a few hundred families homeschooling,” he said. “There should be hundreds of thousands.”
Donnelly’s mission comes when German policy seems to be hardening against homeschooling. The case of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich is just one harsh example of the continued mistreatment of homeschooling families in Germany.
After levying excessive fines on the family, authorities seized the Wunderlichs’ bank account. And only one year ago their children were taken by 20 police officers and social workers who had threatened to break the door down. The children were only released from confinement after an international outcry. When the family asked to leave the country the judge defiantly kept legal custody of the children, sent them to public school, and threatened the family with an international arrest warrant if they tried to escape.
The judge said that under German law homeschooling was “child endangerment.”
The Wunderlichs recently informed HSLDA that they have won back the right to leave Germany with their children. Instead of fleeing, however, they are resolved to fight for the right to homeschool in their homeland. The family is currently homeschooling, but an active investigation threatens more fines and possible jail time for the parents.
HSLDA has been supporting the family’s legal defense. Without HSLDA’s support, the family says, their family would still be apart.
HSLDA Founder and Chairman Michael Farris emphasizes that the struggle for freedom remains an arduous but critical task.
“The fight for homeschooling freedom on a global basis will not be won quickly, but it is a fight that must be won,” Farris said. “That is why I founded HSLDA over 30 years ago—to fight for homeschooling freedom. As a homeschooling father of 10, with 17 grandchildren, I’m determined that HSLDA will continue to fight for homeschooling freedom wherever it is threatened.”
“First, it’s the right thing to do,” he added. “And second, by defending the freedom of others when it is threatened, we defend our own. That is also why we are sending Mike to Germany later this week. Please pray that he would find open hearts and minds.”
Donnelly says that going up against an entire state is tough.
“It’s a daunting task for any family to take on the vast resources of the German state, and for a small organization like ours, it’s quite a challenge,” he explained. “But we can’t stand by and watch fellow homeschoolers be treated like this. By continuing to engage with policy makers, academics and the media we hope to change people’s hearts and minds. It’s a long-haul proposition, but it needs to be done.”
Donnelly added: “I’m hopeful that German homeschoolers will soon be able to organize more and develop the same kinds of structures as American homeschoolers that will enable more people to legally homeschool. We believe that homeschooling is a fundamental right that every person should be able to choose for their families.”