German Family Continues Fight to Homeschool With Appeal to One of Europe’s Highest Courts

A German family punished for homeschooling their children has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Dirk and Petra Wunderlich submitted a final appeal last week asking the ECHR to protect their right to homeschool their four children. Home education has been banned in Germany since 1918 and carries criminal penalties.

In August 2013, a police squad used a battering ram to break into the Wunderlich home as the family started their first day of homeschool classes for the year. A group of more than 20 police officers and social workers forcefully took the four Wunderlich children, ages 7 to 14, out of the home without letting their parents say goodbye. The parents’ only offense was homeschooling.

Dirk and Petra afterwards asked authorities if they could leave Germany for France, where homeschooling is allowed, but were denied. When officials returned their children, they required them to attend a government-approved school. The family is now homeschooling again without backlash but remains in legal uncertainty.

“Children deserve the loving care and protection of their parents. It is a serious thing for a country to interfere with the parent-child bond, so it should only do so where there is a real risk of serious harm,” said Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF International and lead counsel for the family. “Petra and Dirk Wunderlich simply exercised their parental right to raise their children in line with their philosophical and religious convictions—something they believe they can do better in the home environment.”

Clarke noted that Germany was a signatory to major human rights treaties supporting the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children: “Germany has signed on to these treaties and yet continues to ignore its obligations with devastating consequences.”

The ECHR recently agreed to review the family’s case, Wunderlich v. Germany, specifically examining whether German authorities’ actions breached the “right to family life” protected in Article 8 of the European Convention on Family Rights.

The German government submitted replies to the ECHR in late January, claiming the children’s seizure was justified to force them to attend local school so they would learn how to deal with people who think differently. Previous court rulings in Germany have supported the ban on homeschooling, arguing education is a state function and the government has a compelling interest in preventing religious or ideological “parallel societies.”

But homeschooling supporters and some legal experts disagree.

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Kiley Crossland