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July 7, 2010

New Education Law Makes Homeschooling Illegal

The new 1,500-page Swedish education law passed as expected on June 22, 2010. Introduced into parliament last year, the law creates a sweeping reform of the Scandinavian country’s decades-old education system, last changed in 1985. The new, comprehensive law devotes two pages to home education.

The previous education law placed the following regulations on homeschoolers: instruction provided in the home must be a “fully satisfactory alternative” and officials are authorized to inspect homeschools. Over the past several years, Swedish homeschoolers have encountered enough trouble under these requirements, as officials often deny applications to homeschool and place punitive fines upon homeschool families. The new law keeps these regulations but also includes a third—and highly restrictive—requirement: In order to homeschool, there must be “exceptional circumstances.” The “exceptional circumstances” clause effectively means that families who apply to homeschool in Sweden will receive a definite “no,” no matter what the circumstances.

Homeschoolers Work to Stop the Passing of the Law

The Swedish Homeschool Association, ROHUS, diligently lobbied members of parliament (MPs) and the Swedish government to remove the restrictive language on homeschooling and vote against the new education law. Though the organization has limited resources, it facilitated positive contact between the homeschool community and the Swedish media.

Jonas Himmelstrand, president of ROHUS, attests, “We have worked hard with the media, getting more articles and TV spots on homeschooling in the last six months than probably in the last ten years put together.”

When the government asked ROHUS for its perspective on the new education law, the organization gladly complied, providing a full 228-page analysis of the proposed law’s impact on the right of parents to direct the education of their children. In conjunction with HSLDA, the homeschool association also organized email campaigns. Homeschoolers around the world sent hundreds of emails to the 349 members of parliament, as well as to key Swedish government officials, presenting the argument that home-educated children flourish in their studies and graduate to become productive citizens.

ROHUS also sent many requests to the Minister of Education for a face-to-face meeting; sadly, they were always turned down. Instead, the group spent hours last week in front of the parliament building, talking with MPs and handing out pro-homeschooling leaflets. In so doing, ROHUS alerted parliament to the homeschool lobby.

Himmelstrand states, “It was clear that many members were surprised at the qualified resistance from homeschoolers and many [told us] that the last word has not been said. There are still ways to change the law.”

So How Did the Law Pass?

In analysis of the law’s passing, ROHUS writes that “there was no majority in parliament in favor of passing the whole law.” In fact, at least a dozen members did not want to restrict homeschooling. Many other MPs criticized the new law on various other points, including attempts to make day care and preschool compulsory and inconsistencies between the education law and the Swedish constitution.

Himmelstrand cites the mandate of the government, the party line, and the bureaucratic procedures as the main reasons the law passed. Members had to consider the bill in its entirety and were not allowed to vote against specific portions of the law. MPs were strongly dissuaded from casting a disobedient vote of “no,” as this would have created a “government crisis.” Only one MP refused to vote: Maria Kornevik Jakobsson of the Centre Party stated that “she could neither accept the writing on homeschooling nor the ‘schoolification’ of pre-school,” making day care and pre-school a form of traditional school.

The education law makes significant changes to the reality of homeschooling in Sweden. In addition to enshrining the “exceptional circumstances” restriction in Swedish law, it flatly dismisses the typical motivations for homeschooling. The law officially states, “It is the opinion of the government that there is no need of a law to make space for homeschooling based on the religious of philosophical views of the family.” So under the new law, religious or philosophical convictions are no longer valid reasons for homeschooling.

Sweden: A Democracy?

The ROHUS analysis of the new law reveals several reasons why the law passed, including the traditionally low view of the Swedish constitution in the eyes of the government and the strength of the media. In a quote from Himmelstrand:

The new school law has brought into the open a much bigger issue than the question of homeschooling. No democratic government should have the possibility to abolish a human right through law. There needs to be rules to what a government can do. In other countries this is called a constitution. Sweden lacks a true constitution.

Sweden does have a council that reviews new laws—the Lagrådet, part of the Swedish supreme court. Yet the council’s function is only advisory, and it lacks any power to enforce its analyses of proposed law. Although the Lagrådet found the “exceptional circumstances” clause ill-defined, the government did not heed the council’s review. “If Sweden had been a true democracy,” Himmelstrand states, “the supreme court council on new laws could have stopped the law.”

Swedish homeschoolers acknowledge that one of the only controls upon the government is through national elections held every fourth year. The next elections will be held in September of this year.

The only other powerful control against the government in Sweden seems to be the media. If opinion in the media is strong enough, Himmelstrand says, “the government gets cold feet in fear of losing votes.” Though the 50 or so Swedish homeschooling families worked hard to stop the new education law, they were simply too few to effectively influence the media.

The Future of Homeschooling in Sweden

There is some unclarity about when the new law will take effect. According to some sources, officials could begin using the homeschooling portion of the law on August 1 of this year. But homeschoolers have not lost hope. ROHUS believes the situation may be brighter than it looks, as the yearlong struggle has shown the Swedish political elite that there is a small, but strong and intelligent, opposition to restricting homeschooling in Sweden. In addition, international support for Swedish homeschooling clearly demonstrates this is an issue that extends beyond Sweden's borders.

While talking with members of parliament last week, Swedish homeschoolers also learned that forms of international pressure, such as the possibility of taking the law to the European Court of Human Rights, may have an effect.

Himmelstrand says that ROHUS will continue to work to change the law on homeschooling. Several members of parliament have encouraged this. Sweden’s national elections in September are the next step in this battle. Himmelstrand explains, “The outcome of the election is by no means certain and new parties could cause a complicated political situation. The fate of the new school law is therefore at present in the hands of the September election.” The organization’s plan also includes pushing applications to homeschool through the court system to see how the phrase “exceptional circumstances” will be interpreted.

The passing of Sweden’s new, comprehensive education law is a significant event in international homeschooling and in Swedish politics. Considered to be a democratic nation, Sweden’s actions put them on a collision course for a similar homeschooling situation as exists in Germany. “An optimistic view,” states Himmelstrand, “would be that the Swedish government does not want to [encounter] any spectacular cases of exile, political asylum in other countries or homeschoolers put in jail, and that it will do what it can to stop this. This could lead to a mild interpretation of the new law, and international pressure will certainly help in this respect. The law could be short-lived.”

HSLDA will continue to support ROHUS and Swedish homeschoolers. Please remember your fellow homeschoolers as they face difficult circumstances. Thank you for standing with us as we publicize the situation in Sweden and seek to affect change on behalf of homeschool families.

 Other Resources

Read the ROHUS analysis of the new Swedish education law.