“According to HSLDA, the court who ruled against the Wanderlichs said that the public has, in HSLDA’s words, “an interest in counteracting the development of parallel societies and that religious or ethnic minorities must be ‘integrated’ through schools.”
A district court in Darmstadt, Germany has revoked custody of four children from their parents and ordered it turned over to the Jugendamt, Germany’s child protective agency.
The reason for the drastic measure? The parents were homeschooling their children.
Dirk Wanderlich, the father of the family, says that while the Jugendamt has issued a letter saying they will allow the children to stay at home for the time being, he believes that in the long run the state intends to remove them.
“[T]hey told me that the children must go to school,” said Dirk, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association, which is providing legal support to the Wanderlichs.
“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.”
Dirk has good reason to fear that he may eventually lose his children. Homeschooling is illegal in Germany under a law dating back to the Hitler era, and in recent years the country has become increasingly Draconian in enforcing the law – removing children from their families, levying heavy fines, and even sentencing homeschooling parents to jail.
In one recent case, a family successfully petitioned the United States for political asylum. In his decision granting asylum, U.S. Judge Lawrence Burman said that Germany’s policy of persecuting homeschoolers is “repellent to everything we believe as Americans.”
According to HSLDA, the court who ruled against the Wanderlichs said that the public has, in HSLDA’s words, “an interest in counteracting the development of parallel societies and that religious or ethnic minorities must be ‘integrated’ through schools.”
The ruling aligns with reasons given by Germany’s leadership for maintaining the ban. “In our increasingly multicultural society, school is the place for a peaceful dialogue between different opinions, values, religions and ideologies,” Berlin’s education minister, Juergen Zoellner, told BBC in 2010.
“It is a training ground for social tolerance. Therefore, homeschooling is not an option for Germany.”
Reacting to the Wanderlichs’ case, HSLDA Director for International Relations Michael Donnelly, said, “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. In the area of educational freedom, Germany is grossly derelict and oppressive.”
The Wanderlichs’ search for the freedom to homeschool has taken them all across Europe. The family already had one major scare in France, when social workers came and seized their children. However, upon appeal their children were returned to them, and their right to homeschool was solidly affirmed.
But while the Wanderlichs ultimately found tolerance in France, Dirk, a gardener, was unable to find steady work and so the family had to move on. Eventually, after stints in Norway and Hungary, the Wanderlichs returned to their native Germany, where they hoped that their homeschooling would simply go unnoticed.
“We hoped we could homeschool without being found out,” says Dirk. “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.”
In the meantime the Wanderlichs are unable even to leave Germany to seek freedom in another country. “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.”
Desperate and at their wit’s end, the Wanderlichs are reaching out for 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,” says Dirk. “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.”