The Washington Times
February 12, 2001

Brazil's Home-schooling Ban Draws Outcry from U.S. Group

By Andrea Billups
The Washington Times
February 12, 2001

Home School families in the United States are gearing up to help their brethren in Brazil, where a national education panel ruled in December that home schooling in the South American nation was illegal

Members of the Home School Legal Defense Association, headquartered in Purcellville, Va., are organizing a global e-mail and letter-writing campaign aimed at Brazilian embassies here and around the world, said Christopher J. Klicka, the association's director of international affairs. They are calling on officials in Brazil to allow those families who have been quietly teaching their children at home to continue to do so free of government interference.

Previous efforts by U.S. home schoolers and their counterparts abroad have made a major impact on foreign courts and officials in several countries including South Africa, where intense international pressure in 1993 led to the release of two home-school parents sentenced to two years in prison.

In June, a similar outpouring spearheaded in the United States persuaded German courts to drop charges against a home-school father of 10 who had his home ransacked by police and his children sent off to public schools.

"We are building up a nice little track record," Mr. Klicka said of his organization, which counts nearly 70,000 member families across the nation. He noted that U.S. home schoolers have developed a strong bond with their foreign counterparts that has been strengthened by the Internet, which allows them to share their struggles and successes.

"We're all kind of in the same boat. We need each other," said Mr. Klicka, a lawyer and father of seven home-schooled children. "There's kind of a track record for international embarrassment, pressure and publicity. [Other nations] don't need that. It doesn't help trade and it doesn't help relationships with other countries."

In Brazil, Carlos Coelho and his wife, Maria, who live in the state of Goias, have been home schooling for about 10 years, despite a compulsory attendance law that says children must attend school from ages 7-14.

Mr. Coelho, a federal prosecutor, hoped to change the law and brought his case before the federal Council of Education, which, to his shock, ruled against his family. The case is now on appeal, and officials gave the Coelhos until fall to enroll their five children in state-run schools.

Mr. Klicka's organization, which has worked with home-school families in about 25 nations, was contacted by the Coelhos and gladly agreed to get involved. It is using the most recent edition of its newsletter and other publications to urge embassy contact on the Coelhos' behalf.

"Parents everywhere are desperate for hope and the opportunity to train their own children," Mr. Klicka said. "The moral decay in the schools is common to many countries. The parents are starving for more information."

"It has become increasingly apparent to me as I travel that home schooling is no longer a United States phenomena," he added. "Home schooling is gradually but steadily spreading across the world."

One of the group's goals is to spread knowledge to other nations about what they have learned as the home schooling movement has grown over the past couple of decades in the United States. After much struggle in the courts and legislatures, home schooling is now legal in all 50 states.

The HSLDA legal staff works regularly with home-school leaders and home-school associations in various countries, said Mr. Klicka, who recently traveled to Japan, Mexico, Germany and Canada to help home-school families in those nations organize.

Their assistance includes suggesting legal and political strategies; recommending quality study materials; corresponding and occasionally meeting with members of parliament, government officials, and the press; and organizing letter-writing campaigns.

The climate for home schooling differs from nation to nation. Families in Mexico are beginning to organize and more than 600 people attended a recent home-school conference held in Saltillo, near Monterrey.

"Without clear compulsory attendance laws, home schooling is flourishing legally in Mexico", Mr. Klicka said.

"Quality education is hard to come by in Mexico, and many families are poor. Home schooling is providing an answer to this educational dilemma," he added.

Last year, two home-school organizations formed in Japan, the National Home School Association and the Christian Home Educator's Association. And in Hungary, Gene Antonio, a home-school father of seven, is helping put together a national home-school association.

A new group was also formed in Germany called Schulunterricht zu Hause. The group will assist families around the nation, many of which conduct their schooling underground, including seven that are now in court.

German compulsory attendance laws are enacted by each state, Mr. Klicka said. Although none specifically allows home schooling, each state has its own discretion to approve alternative education.

Home schooling is legal in Ireland after families there argued against tough government restrictions assisted by HSLDA. In the Philippines, a new home-school organization has just begun and leaders are looking to the United States for help, Mr. Klicka noted.

Home schooling was officially legalized in Taiwan in June 1999. The Home Educators' Fellowship, a Christian organization founded by Shou-kong and Chuo-chuin Fan, now has more than 120 member families nationwide.

In Canada, a new group called the Association of Christian Home Educators of Quebec held its first Home School Conference and Curriculum Fair in Montreal last May.

Copyright 2001 News World Communications, Inc.
Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times.
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