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September 30, 2010

Homeschoolers Leave Sweden under Pressure and Protest

The Pettersson family (names changed to protect privacy) has been traveling across Europe for the last nine months, staying temporarily with relatives and living as visitors in foreign lands. Despite having submitted the appropriate paperwork to homeschool legally in Sweden, this family is one of many who have encountered persecution from the Scandinavian state heralded as a “social utopia.” Now one year since their local school began to fight them tooth and nail simply for choosing to teach their children at home, this HSLDA member family has made the difficult decision to leave their homeland for good.

Although homeschool families in Sweden have endured threats, stiff fines, continuous court battles, and the possibility of their children being removed from the home, the Pettersson family is among the first to flee the country. The family is working to sell their home and move their belongings from afar. Lynn Pettersson, mother to five, explains, “I am very concerned to go back to my home in Sweden because at the moment the Swedish authorities like to kidnap homeschooled kids,” referencing the state-sanctioned removal of 8-year-old Dominic Johansson from his parents more than a year ago.

It is distressing that Sweden has begun to mimic the repressive actions of Germany, its neighbor to the south. Many German families have been forced to flee intense persecution in recent years and have settled in European countries such as Austria, France, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, where parents are free to choose the form of education that is best for their children. In a significant victory, the German Romeike family was granted political asylum in the United States in January 2010. The USA may well become a haven for Swedish families, too.

In June 2010, the Swedish parliament passed a new education package that makes homeschooling all but illegal, due to a new phrase that allows homeschooling only in “exceptional circumstances.” Even prior to the new law, though, homeschoolers had been forced to comply with increasingly intricate restrictions. When a family submits an application to homeschool, local authorities typically ignore circumstances and instead react in an extremely prejudiced manner, demanding that the children attend public school.

In the case of the Pettersson family, the headmaster from the local school denied them permission to homeschool. In addition, she threatened them with a social service investigation if the children did not immediately appear in school. The Petterssons waited for the school board to provide an explanation for the rejection of their application, but no explanation was supplied. Since the family had complied with Swedish law, they appealed the denial. The municipal government did not reply with a response until after a month had passed. In the meantime, the headmaster repeatedly summoned Mr. and Mrs. Pettersson to meetings and demanded that their school-age children attend school. The family informed the headmaster they had appealed the rejection of their application, putting the matter in the hands of the local government. Accordingly, they declined to meet with her until the appeal was heard. The headmaster responded by bringing the case to social services.

The family contacted HSLDA and requested that we obtain the status of their appeal, in hopes this would put a stop to the numerous emails and letters that continued to require their presence at meetings with the local school. HSLDA’s Mike Donnelly, director of International Affairs, contacted the headmaster in March 2010 and did not receive any indication of the appeal’s status until six months later. As of September 2010, the Pettersson’s appeal is still unprocessed and the local government has not released a statement on the matter.

After a year of frustration with no remedy in sight, said Lynn Pettersson, “We decided to leave Sweden and are currently trying to sell our house and move our stuff out of the country.” Unable to continue homeschooling and unwilling to enroll their children at the local Swedish school, the family left the country while protesting the actions of Swedish government officials.

“From all appearances,” states Lynn Pettersson, “it seems the local municipal government could care less [about our situation].” It is the local headmaster who is doggedly pursuing this family, taking them to task for deviating from the expected patterns of Swedish society. The family is reeling at the injustice and the subsequent stress caused to them as the municipality has chosen to ignore the facts of the situation: the family’s rights according to Swedish law and their positive and documented homeschool program. To date, the family has never been called in by the local court to provide further information or supporting evidence. They even applied for an oral hearing at the administrative court only to discover that no one there was interested in the fact that they homeschool.

Even in the midst of their disappointment and the upheaval of moving, Lynn expresses the family’s perspective: “[We are] very hopeful and look forward to the day when there will be better times for homeschoolers in Sweden.” Yet as other homeschool families like the Petterssons decide that enough is enough, Sweden may continue to lose families to friendlier neighboring nations if “better times” do not come quickly.