German Homeschooling Family Wins Back Custody of Children after Decade-Long Battle with Authorities
On Tuesday, a German court restored the Wunderlich children to the custody of their parents, Dirk and Petra. The Wunderlichs have been fighting for the right to homeschool their children for more than a decade. After losing an appeal before a lower court in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), they are awaiting a response from the highest level of the court, the Grand Chamber.
The Wunderlichs' battle traces back to 2006, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). That year, a German court twice fined the family hundreds of euros for homeschooling their children. In 2008, the family left Germany to continue homeschooling in France. In 2009, French officials briefly removed the children from their parents. In 2012, the family moved back to Germany after failing to find employment in France. A German court transferred the custody of the children to German social services.
On August 29, 2013, 20 German police and social workers removed the children from their parents by force. The children were returned the next month, on the condition that they surrender their passports and attend public school. In April 2015, HSLDA and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed an application before the ECHR, which agreed to take up the case Wunderlich v. Germany in 2016.
In January of this year, ECHR ruled that German authorities did not violate the Wunderlichs' rights when they seized their children in 2013. The Wunderlichs have appealed this ruling.
After the ECHR ruling in January, the German family judge who was involved in the 2013 removal initiated new hearings in the case. He was later substituted by another judge on grounds that he was biased against the family. This replacement judge ruled in favor of the family, restoring custody to the parents.
"The right of parents to direct the education of their children is a fundamental right, protected in international law. We are pleased to see that the German court respected this right and acknowledged that the Wunderlich children are doing well," Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy at ADF International and lead counsel for the Wunderlich family at ECHR, said in a statement. "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."
Two weeks ago, the two younger children and their parents testified before the court about homeschooling.
"I am not ready to attend a public school simply because German judges cannot imagine for me to be educated in a different way. I will not tolerate being forcefully taken and locked up," one of the children wrote in a letter to the judge. A sibling added, "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."
Despite ruling against the family, ECHR recognized that "the knowledge level of the children was not alarming and that the children were not being kept from school against their will."
The Wunderlich children repeated their preference for homeschooling in an interview with CBN News.
"When there are so many children and they are talking about all kinds of things it's really loud," Joshua said. His sister Machsejah added, "in home schooling I felt like we were able to learn a lot more in a shorter time; in school they always make it so long and still you learn less than in homeschool."
'They don't learn anything" in public school, Dirk Wunderlich said. "They get a brainwashing about reality and also they learn bad behavior."
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.