View from here - When home school can mean jail

14th May 2010 at 01:00
Germany's ban has parents seeking asylum and the right to educate their own children, reports Frances Mechan-Schmidt

The Romeikes recently sold their house near Stuttgart in south- western Germany and bought a home in deepest Tennessee. Yet, this is no ordinary story of a family emigrating from Europe to America. The Romeikes were granted asylum in the US earlier this year after fleeing Germany in August 2008, because the authorities would not allow them to educate their children at home.

In an unprecedented case, an American immigration judge ruled in January that the Romeikes, with their five children, were entitled to political asylum on the grounds that they faced persecution in their native country, because of their determination to home-school their children.

The ruling sent shock waves throughout Germany's educational establishment in which each of the 16 states is responsible for its own school policy. In Germany, unlike Britain or America, home schooling is illegal and all children between the ages of six and 18 are required by law to attend a school approved by the education authorities or enrol in some form of vocational training.

Parents who break the law face incremental fines the longer their children stay away from school. They also risk losing custody of their children and, in some cases, incurring jail sentences.

Hence home-schooling figures in Germany are comparatively low - only around 1,000 children are taught at home, compared with an estimated 40- 50,000 in the UK (although the figures are uncertain) and between 1.5 and 2 million in the US.

Yet many German parents are dissatisfied with conditions in regional state schools where classrooms are overcrowded and bullying and drug problems are not uncommon. Others, like the Romeikes, are also deeply devout Christians who feel they can educate their children and instil them with high values as responsible adults better than anyone else.

Still, German educationists are convinced they are acting in children's best interests. In their eyes, school attendance represents a hard-won privilege that heralded a more enlightened age and freed children from hard physical labour to get an education.

The ordeal is far from over for the Romeikes, however: the US Department of Immigration is planning to file an appeal against the initial ruling granting them asylum.

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