Home-school family in Germany flees after father jailed By Jean-Baptiste Piggin

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Monday August 28, 2006

By Jean-Baptiste Piggin, Hamburg- A German couple who are determined to educate their six children entirely at home have fled the city of Hamburg after the father, Andre R, 44, was jailed for a week for refusing to enrol his offspring in a public school. The R family are evangelical Christians who believe that public schools are a bad moral influence on children. Father R has a university degree in teaching, so he thought he could teach his five daughters and one son their reading, writing and arithmetic at home.

But the couple have hit a brick wall with German school authorities, who say they will apply the full power of the state until the R family yields to compulsory-education laws.

In February, Andre R and wife Frauke, 39, were hauled into court and fined 840 euros (1,090 dollars) for defying education laws. This month, five police showed up at the family's rented, suburban row- house and hauled Andre R off to the Hamburg city prison.

Andre R refused to give in, so after a week among murderers and drug dealers, he was released and the authorities tried a new tack.

Officials last week began fetching the children each morning from the R home and taking them to school. Custody of the children is to taken away from the parents and the children will become wards of the state.

On Monday, no one answered when officials came knocking at the door of the R home.

Armin Eckermann, president of the German Home-Schooling Association, who is advising the family, said, "They have left Hamburg." He declined further details.

The Frankfurt-based association represents Germans who are seeking a relaxation of the law and tolerance for families who believe they can offer their children a better education at home than at school.

About 2 per cent of school-age children in the United States do most or all of their learning at home, according to US government statistics. Parents can attend courses and buy books that explain homemade education step by step.

The home-schooling movement is well established in other English- speaking nations such as New Zealand, where inspectors regularly check the learning performance of home-schooled children.

A majority of home-schooling parents are concerned that schools will undermine the religious commitment of their children. German educators argue in reply that schools are a means to integrate children into society.

The odyssey of the R family, who are believed to be the only German family holding out to the last against compulsory schooling, began in late 2001 when they took their eldest daughter, now 15, out of a private school and began teaching her at home.

By now, three girls and the boy are of school age. The family unsuccessfully challenged compulsory education orders in court in 2003.

When the R parents were charged in court in February this year, the whole family apart from the baby showed up in court, towing a hand-truck full of textbooks.

The girls, wearing conservative long dresses and plaited hair, offered to demonstrate their educational prowess to the judge.

Andre R, who said he attended university to study teaching for his children's sake, described how he taught his five-year-old son the laws of physics while they observed sauce cooking on the stove.

Emotion got the better of the father, and he wept as he described their long fight for conscience and Christian fundamentalism.

To no avail. The judge said the children were being "isolated" and convicted both parents of an offence under the education act.

Appeals followed, but all of Germany's higher courts have over- ruled would-be home-schoolers in the past.

Last week the R family abandoned the legal-appeals process as hopeless.

While the family has won growing media attention, neither the mainstream churches nor parent groups who are on German education consultative bodies have offered the R family any support.

Frauke R, who is pregnant, told newspapers while her husband was in jail, "We prepared the children for his arrest and they are OK. I miss him, but God will take care of him." Speaking of her daughters, 15, 13 and 10, she said, "They don't want to attend schools."

Alexander Luckow, a spokesman for the Hamburg education authorities, said application had already been made in court to seize custody of the children, with a decision due within days. The order would apply throughout the 25-nation European Union, he added.

Andre R has worked part-time as a private teacher for neighbourhood families while his wife has been a receptionist for a paediatrician. The family's meagre income is supplemented by donations and tax credits for the children.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur