European Court: German Officials Did Not Violate Home-Schoolers’ Rights

The Wunderlichs are devout Christians and think home education is best for their children.

Dirk and Petra Wunderlich are pictured with their four children.
Dirk and Petra Wunderlich are pictured with their four children. (photo: Courtesy of ADF International)

STRASBOURG, France — Two home-schooling German parents who said their parental rights were violated by the enforcement of compulsory school-attendance laws did not prevail in the European Court of Human Rights, which unanimously rejected their claims Thursday.

“It is a very disheartening day for our family and the many families affected by this in Germany,” Dirk Wunderlich, who with his wife, Petra, are the parents of four children, said Jan. 10.

“After years of legal struggles, this is extremely frustrating for us and our children,” he continued. “It is upsetting that the European Court of Human Rights has not recognized the injustices we have suffered at the hands of the German authorities.”

The parents are devout Christians and thought even private schools would expose their children to “unwanted influences,” BBC News reports.

When the oldest Wunderlich child reached school age in 2005, the parents refused to register in a school. When they faced several regulatory fines and criminal proceedings for failure to comply with compulsory school attendance, “they accepted the decisions and paid the fines, but did not change their behavior,” the court decision said.

The family lived abroad between 2008 to 2011, and upon their return to permanent residence in Germany, they also did not register the children.

In August 2013, a group of at least 20 police officers and social workers raided the Wunderlich home and took away their four children. ADF International, the legal group representing the parents, claimed that the action left the family traumatized.

The children were placed in a children’s home for three weeks. Though they were eventually returned to their parents, their legal status was not clear. The children were enrolled in a school from 2013 to 2014.

In its Jan. 10 decision, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights said that compulsory school attendance to “prevent social isolation” and to ensure their integration in society are relevant justifications to intervene against parental authority.

German officials were reasonable to assume that the parents had “endangered their children by not sending them to school,” the court said. The parents “persistently resisted and prevented the children’s situation from being examined in detail” by German authorities.

“Based on the information available at the time, the domestic authorities had reasonably assumed that the children were isolated, had had no contact with anyone outside of the family, and that a risk to their physical integrity had existed,” the court said.

The court acknowledged that the parents later submitted learning assessments showing that the children had “sufficient knowledge, social skills and a loving relationship with their parents,” but this information was not available to officials when they decided to withdraw parental custody in a temporary and partial manner.

Robert Clark, ADF International director of international advocacy, said the Wunderlichs “simply wanted to educate their children consistent with their convictions and decided their home environment would be the best place for this,” he said. “Children deserve this loving care from their parents.”

Home schooling has been illegal in Germany since 1918, though in recent years the policy has raised questions and concerns with human-rights groups who say it is an infringement on the right to family life.

After appeals to German courts failed, the European Court of Human Rights agreed to review the Wunderlichs’ case. The family claimed German officials’ actions breached the right to family life and parental authority, including the right to determine the children’s place of residence. This right is protected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We are extremely disappointed with this ruling, which disregards the rights of parents all over Europe to raise their children without disproportionate interference from the government,” said Clarke.

The Wunderlichs’ legal counsel is advising them about their options, including a possible appeal to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

Several German families who wish to home-school, many of them Christian, have sought refuge in the United States to ensure their ability to educate their children at home. Others have moved to countries like France or Austria, which have less strict laws.

In 2014, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that restrictions on home schooling were justified on the grounds that the government has a compelling interest in preventing the formation of religious or ideological parallel societies. The court also argued that requiring children to attend school provides them the benefit of interacting with other children who might think differently.

In 2006, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there is no right to home-school.