HOME SCHOOLING / INTERNATIONAL
Germany
Germany

August 19, 2008

German Youth Authorities Allow Gorber Children Home ‘Temporarily’

In a surprise decision earlier this week, the Youth Welfare Authorities in Germany, the “Jugendamt,” have allowed the remaining five Gorber children to return home until the beginning of September. The five girls have been kept in youth homes for the last eight months with minimal visitation from their family.

The family’s attorneys have been arguing that there is no valid reason for the Jugendamt to retain custody of the girls. Earlier this month, a German family court judge ordered that the Jugendamt retain custody of the school-age children because the judge feared the parents would refuse to enroll the children in school and undergo court-ordered psychiatric examinations.

Mr. and Mrs. Gorber are so pleased that their children are now home with them. A person close to the family reported that the “children have held up well under the circumstances and have not been susceptible to manipulation by the Jugendamt or other children in the homes. This is a real testimony of the strength of the family and the parents.”

Despite Germany’s inhospitable education laws, the Gorbers have homeschooled there for quite some time, motivated by their sincere religious convictions. In January, authorities seized the Gorbers’ seven minor children in an aggressive raid of the family home conducted while the parents were absent. At the time of the raid, Mr. Gorber was visiting his wife, who was hospitalized due to a complicated pregnancy. The seizure was conducted without advanced notice and required authorities to carry off at least one child “kicking and screaming.”

A similar raid occurred in 2007 when the Jugendamt and police authorities seized Melissa Busekros from her home in Erlangen and kept her in foster homes for months with minimal visitation from her family. Melissa escaped from her foster home in April 2007, and is now at home. She is pressing her case against the state for breaching her and her family’s civil rights.

The Gorbers, too, have vowed to fight on until they regain permanent custody of all of their children.

Homeschoolers in Germany remain gravely concerned about recent changes in federal law that have made it easier for the Jugendamt to seize children from families who homeschool. In July, German President Horst Kohler signed a law that made it easier for the Jugendamt to take German children from families where the children were “endangered.” The term “endangered” is not defined in the law, and German Courts have already ruled that homeschooling is “an abuse of parental rights.”

Another homeschool family in Germany, the Dudeks, were sentenced to 90 days each in jail in July for homeschooling their children. The Dudeks, who receive daily letters of encouragement, told HSLDA that “they so appreciate the letters from American homeschoolers. Some days we are quite depressed about the situation in Germany, and then we go to the mailbox and we read a wonderful note of encouragement from an American homeschooling family. Our children love the letters and have already several pen-pals.”

The Dudeks’ attorneys will be filing their appeal of the conviction this week with the state appeals court in the German state of Hesse. The Dudeks are hopeful that their appeal will overturn their conviction. “Sending people to jail because they homeschool is wrong,” says Juergen Dudek. “We are educating our children well. They are well-adjusted and not deprived in anyway. We have again applied for status of a private school in Hesse. We are willing to work with the authorities to come to an understanding how we can educate our children, but we will not compromise on whether we, as their parents, will educate them. It is our duty and responsibility and our conscience will not allow us to give that up.”

Other families have fled Germany under threat of extraordinary fines, threat of jail and the possible loss of custody of their children. Some have fled to Canada, England, New Zealand, the United States and even Iran to be able to homeschool their children.

“Families should not have to choose between their homeland and homeschooling,” said HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly, who coordinates HSLDA’s involvement in Germany, “These families are following their conscience, and Germany is simply out of step to treat parents who choose to educate their own children in this dramatically autocratic way. This kind of behavior by the Federal Republic of Germany is very disturbing. HSLDA is committed to helping persecuted homeschoolers in Germany and calls on state legislators in Germany to take action to change their laws to make homeschooling legal. Homeschooling works and is legal all over Europe—Germany should not be allowed to get away with this kind of repression of a fundamental human right.”