A German court has granted a Christian couple custody of their two youngest children, who are still minors, after years of legal conflict over the parents’ right to homeschool. The family awaits referral to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the highest level of appeal.
“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 and lead counsel for the Wunderlich family. “We are pleased to see that the German court respected this right and acknowledged that the Wunderlich children are doing well. As we wait for referral to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, we hope that, there too, the rights of the Wunderlich family will be safeguarded.”
In a letter to the judge overseeing the case in domestic court, one of the children 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.”
Dirk and Petra Wunderlich’s struggle with German authorities began in 2005, when their eldest child reached school age. Germany largely bans the practice of homeschooling, allowing it only for rare exceptions, such as serious illness. Over the years, the Wunderlichs have faced criminal proceedings and fines for violating German law by educating their children at home.
In 2008, the family left Germany and moved to France to continue homeschooling. In 2009, after intervention by the German government, French authorities removed the Wunderlich children from their home but returned them after a few days. Then in 2012, after failing to find long-term employment, the Wunderlich family returned to Germany.
In October 2012, a German district court took legal custody of the Wunderlich children from their parents and gave it to German social services. And in August 2013, the children were forcibly removed from their home for three weeks. They were returned only on the condition that they attend public school and surrender their passports.
The Wunderlichs resumed homeschooling the following month.
In April 2015, the Homeschooling Legal Defense Association and Alliance Defending Freedom International filed an application with the ECHR on behalf of the family. However, this past January, the ECHR sided with the German government, upholding the “enforcement of compulsory school attendance.”
But last week, a new judge ruled in the family’s favor after the previous judge, who was involved in the removal of the children, was replaced on grounds of bias. When the parents submitted learning assessments of the children, the court acknowledged that the children have “sufficient knowledge, social skills and a loving relationship with their parents.”
“We chose to educate our children at home because we believe this to be the best environment for them to learn and thrive,” said Dirk Wunderlich.
Photo: Courtesy of ADF International