Nordic Countries Hot and Cold Towards Homeschooling
Courtesy of the family
In June 2009, Domenic Johansson was removed from
his parents. A year later, Swedish authorities dismissed a renowned human rights lawyer from representing the family.
In northern Europe, two Nordic countries strongly differ in their attitudes towards homeschooling. Finland officially supports parents who choose to educate their children at home, while neighboring Sweden continues down an increasingly hostile path of ostracizing and persecuting families who seek to exercise their right to homeschool.
In Finland, both the constitution and education law protect educational freedom, giving Finnish parents the option to educate their children “otherwise” than at public school.
In a meeting last summer with national homeschool leaders, Timo Lankinen, director general of the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE), affirmed that Finland’s constitution “fully supports” homeschooling. Lankinen emphasized that this crucial point must guide all discussion about homeschooling in Finland. He added that homeschooling deserves more attention than it has received so far from the current Finnish administration. Lankinen and other FNBE representatives also acknowledged that Finnish education law limits authorities to a supervisory role toward homeschoolers, and agreed to help negotiate in situations of conflict between homeschoolers and local officials.
As a sign of goodwill, the current article on homeschooling on the FNBE website will be revised to reflect these positive developments. Homeschoolers will meet again with Director General Lankinen early this year.
The positive relationship between Finnish authorities and homeschoolers contrasts with the overt antagonism shown by Swedish officials toward homeschoolers. In Sweden, families are being increasingly confronted with stark choices. Three families have now left Sweden because of intense pressure from authorities about their choice to homeschool.
Although one family had successfully educated their son at home for six years, local authorities in their municipality in southwestern Sweden denied the family’s 2009–10 application to homeschool. The municipality also demanded that the child begin attending school immediately and fined each parent 10,000 Swedish crowns (equivalent to $1,500 in U.S. currency). It appears that the municipality based this decision solely upon its prejudiced views of homeschooling as “inadequate” and even “harmful” to children—views that have been repeated in other judicial decisions in Sweden.
For six years, this family had submitted to annual inspections by municipal officials to ensure transparency, met with authorities, maintained detailed work plans and academic records, and agreed to periodic examinations. In denying the application to homeschool, municipal officials completely ignored the responsible manner in which the family had conducted their homeschool, as well as their son’s exceptional academic and social performance.
Now for the first time, a Swedish court has ratified the exorbitant fines. If a family doesn’t pay, their assets can be seized and their wages garnished. In addition, officials are seeking a court order to force the family to render payment of the fine, since they declined to pay or to send their son to the public school while the matter of their application was being decided by the court.
ARE TAKING AWAY
The mother of the homeschooled boy contests the municipality’s use of fines to punish homeschoolers. “Fines are for people who act illegally, not for law-abiding citizens,” she says. “Our child is going to school. It would be different with parents who don’t take their child to any school. That is where they can use fines.”
When the family submitted their application to homeschool for the 2010–11 school year, the municipality denied the application again, this time telling the family that the denial did not even deserve a hearing in court. Such a court case would be “unnecessary,” the authorities claim, because the issue had already been “dealt with” the previous year. HSLDA is supporting the family and others in Sweden in court cases to challenge this outcome.
HSLDA Staff Attorney and Director of International Affairs Mike Donnelly says that the response of these officials is more than troubling. “The municipality’s denial of the family’s due process rights is the most recent action by Swedish officials to reveal a blatant agenda to persecute homeschoolers as a specific social group,” says Donnelly. “These officials are taking away basic due process rights. An impartial hearing for each denial of the family’s rights is a basic ingredient in a fair system of justice. Denying individuals their legal right to due process shows that Sweden is on a dangerous path heading towards tyranny.”
In another instance, Swedish authorities ignored basic notions of due process by removing previously appointed counsel in the high-profile case involving homeschooled student Domenic Johansson. Domenic was taken into state custody in June 2009, as his family was on a plane to move out of the country in order to legally homeschool elsewhere. In that case, renowned human rights lawyer Ruby Harrold-Claesson was dismissed from representing Domenic’s parents.
Donnelly protests that this action interfered with the Johanssons’ right to counsel, an integral part of due process. “By denying due process like this, Sweden has departed from a system of law that safeguards the rights of the individual,” he says. “Both of these cases, and many others like them, call into question the basic fairness of the Swedish legal process. Decisions like this, where the state overpowers the rights of individuals to squelch ‘dissent,’ are a frightening echo of Germany’s treatment of homeschoolers.”
Swedish homeschoolers hope they are not seeing the effects of the new Swedish education law, which passed the Swedish Parliament in June 2010. Jonas Himmelstrand, president of ROHUS, the Swedish Association for Home Education, says, “We don’t want this procedure to become routine in homeschoolers’ interaction with the municipalities.”
It is ironic that the American Bar Association’s World Justice Project ranks Sweden at the top of its Rule of Law Index. Sweden’s actions towards homeschoolers show that it is out of step with free and democratic societies who value individual freedom, diversity, and the fundamental role of parents in determining what is best for their children. HSLDA is committed to defending parents’ fundamental rights to homeschool their children and to preventing dangerous practices like those in Sweden and Germany from making their way here.