Editor’s Note: The names of the family members have been withheld at their request.
A homeschooling father and mother from Germany have fled to Iran with their son in search of educational freedom and apparently are being sought by authorities for child kidnapping, according to WND sources.
Meanwhile, a new campaign has been launched by German lawmakers to approve a provision that would allow authorities to simply take legal custody of children whose parents are trying to avoid problems associated with the public school system.
The two situations are the latest developments as parental rights in Germany are under attack, especially regarding the right to direct the education of their own children, homeschool advocates say.
WND just weeks ago reported on an “open season,” on homeschoolers in Germany when a government letter to school officials revealed that when parents refuse to send their children to a state-approved school, it is now considered “a misuse of parental custody rights, which violates the well-being of the child.”
Now word has surfaced about a couple whose concern for their gifted son prompted their flight to Iran.
“As a family with a gifted and talented child, we fled Germany … with two suitcases and with the last of our money being spent on our flight to Iran,” a letter from the family to “supporting friends” said.
The family includes the father, the mother, and the son. It was written by the mother on behalf of the family.
“As things stand now, Germany is unworthy of membership in the European Community, or to speak on Human Rights in the international arena. The shadows of the Third Reich and the ideology of Adolf Hitler – if not worse – still drift over Germany,” the letter said.
The family’s dispute arose because of a decision in the Family Court of Wiesbaden, “with corresponding [threats] of violent compulsory measures against us,” the family’s letter said.
The family son has been homeschooled since 2006, taking theater, “gifted and talented courses,” foreign languages, gymnastics, horseback riding and music. He obtained a certificate from the Children’s College of Rheinland-Pfalz – Gifted and Talented Center last summer stating that he “integrates himself very quickly into the groups … and has made some friendships here.” It describes the student as “a friendly, highly motivated child, achieving very good results…”
But local school officials objected to the program of education for the son, the family letter said.
“Because the public school authority of Wiesbaden has no suitable schools for a highly gifted and talented child such as our [son], they, along with Child Protective Services, wanted to force him to attend the Special Education branch Friedrich-von-Schiller School for children with behavioral problems and for low performing children,” the letter said.
The son already had experience at that school, because it was there when he was 6 that he was struck by a teacher who later faced a criminal complaint making accusations of Willful Aggravated Battery in Office, the family said.
“Because we resisted the educational poverty, the boredom and the violence in the schools, Child Protective Services moved in Family Court to strip us of custody of our son and place him in a foster home, in an illegitimate trial without our being present or having an opportunity to present the circumstances from our perspective, so that the state could destroy and make pliable the mind of a gifted and talented child who intellectually stood in their way,” the letter said.
“Our situation in Iran is an emergency situation, because we are living off of support from our parents. [Our son] suffers from an asthma-like illness, and has health problems due to the extreme air pollution, as well as insurance and medical insurance coverage and other support services not being available here,” the family wrote. “Our social benefits in Germany have been completely cut off … ”
“Father has told me that he has received calls that we are being sought for child kidnapping,” said the mother.
“I come from a Frankfurt civil servant family, and am a certified biologist, while my husband comes from an Iranian family of doctors (civil servants) and is a scientific colleague in pharmaceutical security. For this reason [my son] and I both hold dual citizenship (Germany/Iran),” the mother wrote.
She said an attorney has begun submitting paperwork to pursue the family’s case in Germany.
Iran has been described by Christian Solidarity Worldwide as having “earned” what was described as “an appalling reputation on the subject of human rights. Arbitrary detention, torture, disappearance, summary trial and execution are not uncommon.”
The organization reported even the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has a special representative submitting ongoing reports on the situation. The nation’s constitution official allows “minority religions” including Christianity and Judaism, but the right to practice a religion of choice often is crippled by the nation’s laws providing for “the need to safeguard the interests of the state.” Iran provides for the death penalty for “apostasy” and bans proselytism.
Such provisions, however, may play a less significant role in this family’s case, since family members did not base their desire for homeschooling on the German school system’s anti-Christian bias, as a multitude of families have, but instead on a need for a higher quality of education than available.
The second new development was reported by Jan Edel, of the “Schulbildung in Familieninitiative” organization that seeks alternative methods of education. It is associated with Netzwerk Bildungsfreitheit, a homeschool advocacy organization working on behalf of families in Germany.
“The devil appears to be loose [in Germany educational bureaucracy],” the note from Edel said. “A large-scale campaign is being aimed at parents who are not able to come to terms with the available educational provisions and ‘exit’ seeking the alternative model of homeschooling.”
A high-ranking politician from Hessen confirmed a new law would target parents “who are convinced of the inadequacy of public education and ‘make themselves a nuisance,'” the report assembled by Edel said.
“After all, parents cannot be allowed to begin to think independently about their children’s failure in school and cause a sensation and riot through choosing alternatives to school attendance,” it said.
The report cited a telephone call with a representative for a legislator who is pushing for a law that would take custody away from parents if their children aren’t in public schools.
“She also mentioned that up to now, it has only been possible to restrict the parents’ custody (i.e. in matters of schooling and in the choice of the children’s residence) but now the state will be able to take full custody away from the parents when the law was passed…,” the report said.
The letter from governmental officials to school leaders recently revealed that not only did the bureaucracy consider homeschooling a violation of children’s well-being, local officials were expected to act if they had knowledge of such cases.
“We ask for acknowledgment and compliance,” the letter, signed by
N. Hauf., director of school affairs, said in the letter
Numerous homeschooling families in Germany have run afoul of that nation’s Nazi-era law banning homeschooling, and being fined or otherwise penalized. In recent days, however, the threats against homeschooling parents frequently have included loss of custody of their children, and several families already have fled.
Even advocates for homeschooling have begun to fear for their safety of their families.
“It is very likely that our family [will have] to leave the country this year. Maybe I have to bring my children and my wife to a place of safety within the next weeks or even days,” one advocate said in a personal message to the Home School Legal Defense Association, the world’s largest homeschool advocacy organization which has been involved in a number of recent cases in Germany.
“The behavior of German authorities against families who homeschool goes against the very fiber of what free and democratic societies stand for – that governments exist to protect the rights of people not to take them away,” Mike Donnelly, a staff attorney for the HSLDA, said. “In Germany it appears that the judicial, executive and legislative branches of government do not care to protect the human right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children which includes the right to homeschool – a view shared by nearly all other western civilized countries.”
Another family recently fled Germany for England to avoid threatened court action by family court officials. The Landahl family was facing a court case assembled by the mayor of Altenschieg.
“We are seeing what may be a severe crackdown against homeschoolers in Germany,” Donnelly said. This document “appears to send the message to local school officials that it is ‘open season’ on homeschoolers in Germany.”
He said there has been an increase in the number of families fleeing persecution in Germany, and “even American citizens in Germany are also being told that they must enroll their children in the public schools or an approved private school or else face the same measures that German families face.”
Even before the 2007 court ruling and the recent letter, Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit, or Network for Freedom in Education, reported that German authorities were rigid in their interpretation of homeschooling bans, up to the point that they expressed plans to change the religious opinions of a family.
The group described a situation in which local police had picked up three children from one family and taken them physically to a public school.
When another family objected to police officers taking their child from home to school, they objected, without success.
“The minister of education does not share your attitudes toward so-called homeschooling,” said a government letter in response. “… You complain about the forced school escort of primary school children by the responsible local police officers. … In order to avoid this in future, the education authority is in conversation with the affected family in order to look for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement.”
The European Human Rights Court earlier affirmed Germany’s homeschool ban.
That specific case addressed in the opinion involved Fritz and Marianna Konrad, who filed the complaint in 2003 and argued that Germany’s compulsory school attendance endangered their children’s religious upbringing and promotes teaching inconsistent with the family’s Christian faith.
The court said the Konrads belong to a “Christian community which is strongly attached to the Bible” and rejected public schooling because of the explicit sexual indoctrination programs that the courses there include.
The German court already had ruled that the parental “wish” to have their children grow up in a home without such influences “could not take priority over compulsory school attendance.” The decision also said the parents do not have an “exclusive” right to lead their children’s education.
The family had appealed under the European Convention on Human Rights statement that: “No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”
But the court’s ruling said, instead, that schools represent society, and “it was in the children’s interest to become part of that society … The parents’ right to education did not go as far as to deprive their children of that experience.”
Government officials repeatedly have expressed a determination to stamp out “parallel societies” and that includes homeschooling. An American family of Baptist missionaries reports being threatened with deportation for homeschooling, and a teenager, Melissa Busekros, eventually was returned to her family months after German authorities took her from her home and forcibly detained her in a psychiatric facility for being homeschooled.
“Even the United Nations has called on Germany to reform the way it treats homeschoolers. We appeal to the German people and German leadership to do what is right and to protect rather than attack families who choose to homeschool their children,” the HSDLA has noted.
In the case involving Melissa Busekros, a German appeals court ultimately ordered legal custody of the teenager who was taken from her home by a police squad and detained in a psychiatric hospital in 2007 for being homeschooled be returned to her family because she no longer is in danger.
The lower court’s ruling had ordered police officers to take Melissa – then 15 – from her home, if necessary by force, and place her in a mental institution for a variety of evaluations. She was kept in custody from early February until April, when she turned 16 and under German law was subject to different laws.
At that point she simply walked away from the foster home where she had been required to stay and returned home.
Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, has commented on the issue on a blog, noting the government “has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views and in integrating minorities into the population as a whole.”
Drautz said homeschool students’ test results may be as good as for those in school, but “school teaches not only knowledge but also social conduct, encourages dialogue among people of different beliefs and cultures, and helps students to become responsible citizens.”
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