We brought attention to the difficult climate for homeschooling in Germany in this column in March 2007. We shared the trials and tribulations of the Busekros family, whose 15-year-old daughter was forcibly removed from their home because she was being homeschooled. Melissa was placed in the psychiatric wing of a Bavarian clinic and was deemed to be suffering from "school-phobia."
There is good news to report on behalf of the Busekros family. When she turned 16, Melissa walked away from the clinic and returned home. Bavarian officials did not consent to her leaving, but because she had reached the age where she could not be compelled to attend school daily, they could not force her to stay.
The bad news is that the situation for homeschooling families has not improved in Germany and may be even worse. One of our Home School Legal Defense Association staff attorneys just returned from a two-week assessment of the homeschooling climate in Germany.
Sadly, homeschool families continue to be aggressively pursued by school authorities and youth welfare officials. In addition, homeschoolers in Germany have more cause to be concerned than in the past because of action by the federal parliament that has made it easier to take children from homeschooling parents. Under the old law, government officials had to show that the child was in danger because of abuse by the parents. All that is required under the new law is that the child's welfare is in danger, a vague requirement that is undefined by the current law. Although the law has not been signed by the federal president, he is expected to do so at any time.
Perhaps the most appalling case going through the court system at this time involves a large family of lifelong homeschoolers. The father is a craftsman and the family operates a small farm. Many Germans view the choice to have a large family as evidence of mental illness. Furthermore, the family's evangelical Christian faith is viewed with suspicion because it differs from the majority of those in their community.
Earlier this year, youth welfare officials surrounded the home with police and took all children younger than 16. A 7-year-old girl was carried from her home, kicking and screaming. When the father returned home, he found papers from the government and the children gone.
Like Melissa Busekros, two of the children escaped from a youth home. The youth welfare officials and police showed up quickly to return them to the youth welfare office. Although they were temporarily deterred because of the intervention of a local lawyer, the children have since been forced back into the youth welfare system. The family has appealed to the state appeals court without success.
The bottom line is that unless there are some modest political and/or legal victories soon, homeschooling may become extinct in Germany. The extreme measures used by government officials against homeschooling families are simply unacceptable in a free society. Germany's prohibition of an educational option that has been proven to be effective for many families flies in the face of standards that free societies ought to accept.
As a result, families who wish to homeschool in Germany have two choices. First, they can continue homeschooling and hope to remain undetected, but then face losing their children and large fines if discovered. Second, they can flee their country. Emigration is not a simple matter either. To immigrate legally to another country, these families may have to seek asylum, an uncertain and often expensive process.
The fight for freedom to homeschool in Germany will continue with the hope that one day public policy-makers in Germany will come to their senses and stop persecuting parents who exercise a fundamental human right to educate their children-a right that is recognized and protected by virtually all freedom-loving nations.
Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media (at) hslda.org.