German homeschooling family granted custody while awaiting appeal

Darmstadt, Germany, Jul 2, 2019 / 10:05 am (CNA).- A court in Germany has ruled that a homeschooling Christian couple may retain custody of their children as they await an appeal against the country’s compulsory school attendance law.

For nearly 15 years, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich have been engaged in a legal battle over their decision to homeschool their four children, in violation of a German law prohibiting homeschooling.

A domestic court in Darmstadt ruled July 2 that the Wunderlichs may have custody of their two youngest children, who are still minors, as they wait to be referred to the highest level of the European Court of Human Rights.

“The right of parents to direct the education of their children is a fundamental right, protected in international law,” said Robert Clarke, director of European Advocacy for ADF International.

Clarke is serving as lead counsel for the Wunderlichs before the European Court of Human Rights.

He said he was “pleased to see that the German court respected this right and acknowledged that the Wunderlich children are doing well.”

As devout Christians, the Wunderlichs wanted to homeschool in order to avoid exposing their children to unwanted influences.

When the oldest Wunderlich child reached school age in 2005, they refused to register in a school. They faced several regulatory fines and criminal proceedings for failure to comply with compulsory school attendance.

The family lived abroad between 2008 to 2011, and upon their return to permanent residence in Germany again refused to register the children.

In August 2013, a group of at least 20 police officers and social workers raided the Wunderlich home and took away their four children. ADF International, the legal group representing the parents, said the action left the family traumatized.

The children were placed in a children’s home for three weeks. Though they were eventually returned to their parents, their legal status was not clear. The children were enrolled in a school from 2013 to 2014.

In January 2019, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled against the family, saying compulsory school attendance to “prevent social isolation” and to ensure their integration in society are relevant justifications to intervene against parental authority.

German officials were reasonable to assume that parents had “endangered their children by not sending them to school,” the court said. The parents “persistently resisted and prevented the children’s situation from being examined in detail” by German authorities.

The court acknowledged that the parents later submitted learning assessments showing that the children had “sufficient knowledge, social skills and a loving relationship with their parents,” but this information was not available to officials when they decided to withdraw parental custody in a temporary and partial manner.

The family has appealed to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and is awaiting a response.

The Wunderlich children have expressed a desire to be homeschooled. In a letter to the court, one of them wrote, “I just want to live and learn in peace with my family without the constant fear of being torn apart like in 2009 and in 2013. I went to a public school for a year and definitely did not enjoy it.”

Homeschooling has been illegal in Germany since 1918, though in recent years the policy has raised questions and concerns with human rights groups who say it is an infringement on the right to family life.

In 2014, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that restrictions on homeschooling were justified on the grounds that the government has a compelling interest in preventing the formation of religious or ideological parallel societies. The court also argued that requiring children to attend school provides them the benefit of interacting with other children who might think differently.

In 2006, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there is no right to homeschool.

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