A family that fled to the United Kingdom because of the German government’s crackdown on homeschooling has told a British newspaper of the intolerance they left behind.
“It feels like persecution,” Klaus Landahl told The Observer in London. “We had to get to safety to protect our family.”
WND reported when the Landahl family fled to England because the mayor in their town, Altensteig, which has a sister-city promotional relationship with Butte, Mont., launched a court action aimed at giving custody of their children to the state.
Officials with Netzwerk-Bildungsfreiheit, an education advocacy group in Germany, confirmed then that Klaus and Kathrin Landahl and their five children, including four of school age, had reached “safety in England.”
“We can never go back,” Landahl told the newspaper. “If we do, our children will be removed, as the German government says they are the property of the state now.”
The newspaper report cited a multitude of families fleeing Germany and taking up residence in the United Kingdom “to escape a law introduced by Hitler.”
“Homeschooling has been illegal in Germany since it was outlawed in 1938,” the newspaper said. “Hitler wanted the Nazi state to have complete control of young minds.”
Even today, the only exceptions to the mandatory public school attendance requirements are rare cases where they are granted for children suffering serious illnesses.
Landahl told the newspaper his family had no choice but to flee Germany after they were warned either to enroll their children in local schools or lose custody. The Landahl family now lives on the Isle of Wight, and are surviving off savings while he seeks work to support them.
Kathrin Landahl told the newspaper the family chose homeschooling to spare their children the bullying that occurs in German schools, and to allow them to focus on their interests.
“In school in Germany they expect you to be like everybody else; you cannot be different,” she told the newspaper. ” If you don’t have the correct clothes, like Nike and Adidas, or if you wear the wrong color, other children will not accept you.”
The Observer also reported on another case, that of Jonathan Skeet, who fled Ludenscheid with his wife and five children after authorities froze their bank account, took money from it, and confiscated their vehicle.
The family also chose the Isle of Wight to relocate because of its large home education network. The persecution, he said, was intolerable.
“It was crippling,” he told The Observer. “When we lived in Germany we wanted to live a very inconspicuous and quiet life. But instead we ended up in direct confrontation with a very powerful state.”
His family’s concerns were over the roughness of the German schools. Other families have expressed concern over the anti-Christian philosophy adopted by German schools, and the explicit sex education courses that are mandated.
Experts, including officials with Schulbildung in Familieninitiative, which also supports home education in Germany, report that during 2007 78 homeschooled children fled Germany with their parents.
“Home educators have to learn to expect anything and have to be ready to leave overnight,” spokeswoman Stephanie Edel said.
WND reported when the Landahl family fled they already had deregistered as residents in Germany, but a spokesman for the advocacy group confirmed that did not prevent the Altensteig mayor from filing action in a local family court “to take custody [of the children] away from the Landahls.”
Another family also has confirmed plans to leave Germany because of the harassment they been subjected to as homeschoolers, according to the U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association.
Dagmar and Tilman Neubronner also have fallen victim to government persecution, officials said.
The HSLDA said such a policy “is in stark contrast to all other democratic and free societies that embrace homeschooling and recognize that parents have the primary responsibility and inalienable right to direct the upbringing and education of their children.”
“We are leaving Germany for now, and our children and my husband Tilman have already given up their permanent residence in Germany,” said a note from Dagmar Neubronner. “I will maintain my permanent residence in Bremen because I am the bearer of our small publishing house.”
The family was facing continuing threats from the “federal minister of education” to impose penalties adding up to $10,000, plus “further coercives.” The government already had searched the home for items that could be sold to pay the penalties, and had shut down the family’s access to bank accounts.
“Only jail and loss of custody are left” as potential penalties, their lawyer concluded.
Government officials repeatedly have expressed a determination to stamp out “parallel societies” and that includes homeschooling.
German officials also recently targeted an American family of Baptist missionaries for deportation because they belong to a group that refuses “to give their children over to the state school system.”
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.
WND has reported further on other families facing fines, frozen bank accounts and court-ordered state custody of their children for resisting Germany’s mandatory public school requirements, which by government admission are assigned to counter “the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views.”
“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 2007 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.”
The German government’s defense of its “social” teachings and mandatory public school attendance was clarified during an earlier dispute on which WND reported, when a German family wrote to officials objecting to police officers picking their child up at home and delivering him to a public school.
“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.”
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