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April 19, 2011

German Authorities Threaten Homeschool Family

In a case decided in February, a German judge denied the Erz family permission to homeschool—even though the family was able to demonstrate they were providing a quality education.

Jonathan and Irene Erz began homeschooling their children this past fall and contacted the school to make officials aware that the children would be taught at home via Clonlara, an international distance learning program used by homeschoolers abroad.

Homeschooling is almost universally illegal in Germany, although several hundred families persist in teaching their children at home. Nearly all of these families operate underground or are involved in court battles. The persecution of homeschoolers has escalated over the past decade, as German authorities continually threaten families with stiff fines, imprisonment, or the loss of their children. Many German families have fled their homeland, resulting in the landmark Romeike asylum case in January 2010. The decision by a U.S. judge to grant political asylum to a German homeschool family, currently on appeal, reflects the repressive nature of Germany’s educational policies.

The Erz family was notified by the regional government that the international school was “not recognized by the region as a private school,” and consequently did not fulfill the compulsory education requirement. The letter reminded the Erz family that the penalty for disregarding the mandatory school attendance law is a fine up to the amount of 50,000 euros (nearly $70,000 in U.S. currency). And, the authorities noted, if the penalty was not paid, German law allows for arrest or the removal of parental custody.

“Such drastic measures,” Mr. Erz protests, “are usually not considered in democratic nations until a court decision is reached.”

The family has since appeared in court multiple times to defend their right to homeschool. In this particular case, the issue is not homeschooling during the elementary grades, but during high school. The infamous Konrad v. Germany case, decided by the German High Court in 2003 and then reviewed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2006, specifically left open the issue of whether children could be homeschooled in secondary grades. Since the compulsory education laws in the Erz’s region do not specify mandatory attendance after elementary school, this provides a potential opening for homeschooling.

At the trial, the local school board strongly encouraged the court to reject the Erz’s request to homeschool. School board officials informed the court that to date all similar cases concerning homeschooling have been unequivocally rejected. Although the judge expressed he was 100% sure that the education and upbringing being provided to the Erz’s children is of good quality and that the children are integrated in society, the judge ultimately rejected their case. Following the uniform ruling in German courts to date, the judge denied the Erz family permission to homeschool.

Mr. Erz called the decision “political.”

“The judges presiding over the case actually scolded the defendant more than once, for example, for questioning the quality of education being provided,” explains Mr. Erz. “It appears the judge felt he had no other choice in the end.”