German home-school families face US deportation

The Reinhold family moved to the US to continue home schooling

Uwe and Hanalore Romeike want to educate their seven children at home, rather than in the school system.

But in Germany where they come from originally, home schooling is illegal.

It isn't just discouraged, it is punishable by heavy fines and imprisonment and their children could be taken away from them.

So along with other German home-schooling families they have come to the United States and are seeking asylum.

But the claim they are being persecuted has not been accepted and unless the Supreme Court intervenes they face deportation from the US.

"We are being persecuted, as are many other home schooling families in Germany," says Mr Romeike.

"Parents should have the right to choose the best education for their children. That's what's lacking in Germany. We don't have freedom of education."

Family choice

The family arrived in the US in 2008 and settled in Tennessee. In 2010 a state court granted their request for asylum but two years later the Obama administration called for a review and a higher court overturned the decision.

A home-schooling co-op in Maryland Home-schooling co-op in Maryland: Parents can share their expertise

The Romeikes' only hope of staying in the US now rests with the Supreme Court which still hasn't decided whether to hear their appeal.

"We started home schooling because our two oldest children were in public school for a few years and from the beginning had problems.

"Our daughter started having headaches and stomach aches, our son's personality changed. After we started home schooling all these symptoms disappeared. We didn't want to stop," says Mr Romeike.

"Home schooling is not about motivation or methodology. Home schooling is simply about parents making the choice as to what's best for their children," says Michael Donnelly, a lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association.

The HDLA is assisting the Romeikes and other German parents including Dirk and Petra Wunderlich. German police recently placed their four children in temporary care because the Wunderlichs refused to send them to school.

"There was no other question about this family - they weren't abusing or neglecting their children - the only issue was that they were not in school," says Mr Donnelly.

"It's really quite striking when you look at a free country - as Germany claims to be - and you see how they treat parents who want to exercise a freedom."

The children have been returned to the Wunderlichs, but the German government has banned them from leaving the country, says Mr Donnelly.

Meeting other children

Like many families who decide to educate their children at home, the Romeikes and the Wunderlichs are evangelical Christians.

But some law experts say they their grounds for claiming religious persecution in Germany are weak.

Romeike family Families such as the Romeikes have come to the US as home schooling is illegal in Germany

"Germany is a democratic country and it chooses to make attendance in schools mandatory. It offers many choices of school - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, private, public - every imaginable sort," says Professor David Abraham an expert on immigration and citizenship law at the University of Miami School of Law.

"But its legislature has decided that children need the social context of meeting other children.

"Parents have a responsibility to raise their children properly, but that does not mean they have a right to counter democratic legislation. What they can't call persecution is the obligation to attend school with other children. That's an important social value that the German legislature has adopted," he says.

'Praying together'

Many children educated at home in the US also attend home school co-ops where parents pool their skills to enable specialised or more advanced subjects to be taught. They also meet other families who share similar values.

Romeikes and their supporters outside a court hearing in Cincinnati The Romeike family and their supporters outside a court hearing in Cincinnati

"It's a very nice environment. Everything is very Christian and I really enjoy that. I also enjoy being able to pray with my mom whenever I need to," says 13-year-old Esther Reinhold who lives in Sterling, Virginia.

Her parents, Ulrike and Matthias Reinhold, emigrated from Germany and became US citizens in order to home school their six children.

Start Quote

Parents have a responsibility to raise their children properly, but that does not mean they have a right to counter democratic legislation”

End Quote Professor David Abraham University of Miami School of Law

"We enjoy home schooling because it is very family oriented, it strengthens our family," says Mr Reinhold.

"We spend time teaching them the regular subjects but they also have time to pursue their interests in a stronger way than they would in a normal school setting."

"I'm definitely glad we are allowed to home school here," says 15-year-old Ruth Reinhold who also attends a co-op and has private piano lessons.

"I could go to a public Christian school but even there, there's still a lot more drama about the dating thing and there's a lot more foul language. I know that if I went to public school within about four weeks I would be going along with the others, cursing and dishonouring God especially."

More than two million children are taught at home in the US and the number is growing.

Professor Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, says that a strand in the home schooling movement developed in the 1970s when some Christians began questioning the type of education their children were receiving in state and privately run schools.

But he says it's too simplistic to describe home schooling as a religious movement.

"I've met many non-Christian parents who would say the same thing: it's not the government's job to indoctrinate my children," he says.

"The core issue is who is in charge of a child's education. Whether home schoolers are agnostic, Jews, or Christians they all believe in parental responsibility for the child's education and they don't think the state should be doing it."

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