January 22, 2012

Families Ordered to Send Their Children to School

By Willi Villiger

Two Swiss homeschool families wanted to challenge the judgments of subordinate administrative courts that had previously ruled against them and denied them the option of private education for their children. Both families—from the cantons of St. Gallen and Zurich—recently appealed to the Federal Court. This is the highest court in Switzerland. Sadly, the Federal Court also ruled against the families. In the case of the Zurich family, the court even criticized the cantonal legislation as too liberal. The main argument of the critique concerned homeschoolers’ so-called lack of socialization. The court stated that as long as children grow and learn only within the family, the principle of equal opportunities is not guaranteed—yet these opportunities are required by the Swiss Constitution. The court asserted that compulsory schooling requires not only equal education for all, but also the same level of socialization for all students.

This strikes a hard blow to the freedom of education in Switzerland. However, as education is regulated at the cantonal level, we do not yet know what impact the ruling will have among the twenty-six cantons. We expect that some cantons will still retain very liberal homeschool legislation, but cantonal politicians who seek to tighten laws will now be able to easily rely on this ruling by the Federal Court.

The canton of Zurich has particularly sought to restrict homeschooling. Following the Federal Court ruling, the situation in Zurich is worsening. The five homeschool families who remain in Zurich have been given a 20-day period to appeal the Federal Court’s ruling. However, in the meantime, the authorities have asked the families to send their children to school now. In reality, the appeal is only a temporary reprieve; all of the legal options are exhausted. Yet each of the five families are Christians, and they are determined not to send their children to school.

In Switzerland, there is the possibility for direct democracy. Whenever a group gathers 100,000 signatures for a bill, they can force a public vote on an issue. However, it is very uncertain if we could currently win a majority in a vote for the parental right to direct the education of one’s children.

Switzerland has seven million inhabitants, and there are currently approximately 400 children taught privately. The first families began homeschooling in the late 1990s, and since then, the number of homeschooling families has since risen steadily. In the beginning of the movement, most of the home educators were Christians; the majority of families in the Swiss homeschool community now are secular families. Despite the poor legal prospects and rulings such as the one from the Federal Court, the Homeschool Association of Switzerland has drawn over 40 new members this year.

Willi Villiger is a Board Member of Bildung zu Hause Schweiz (the Homeschool Association of Switzerland).

 Other Resources

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s Switzerland page.