Music teachers, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, want to homeschool their children. In the United States, potential homeschoolers seek out our state homeschooling rights and responsibilities and follow them in order to homeschool. Romeikes would prefer their children were educated in their home country of Germany. But, unlike the United States, homeschooling isn't possible in Germany, so they moved to Tennessee to continue educating their children as they wished. Political asylum was sought in the United States to protect the family from being fined, having their children forced from their home and taken to public school, along with the potential they could lose their children for homeschooling them. Trying to wade past the emotion within the homeschool community, this post will share some of the details of an asylum case that will be heard in April in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
From the New York Times in 2010 – by Campbell Robertson, regarding Uwe and Hannelore discovering homeschooling and their start in Germany educating their two oldest children:
“She knew a family, but she didn’t want to mention their name because it wasn’t legal,” Mr. Romeike said.
Months of research followed: the Romeikes read articles, sat in on court cases and talked to other home-schoolers in Germany. Eventually they decided to give it a try. Working with a curriculum from a private Christian correspondence school — one not recognized by the German government — they expected to be punished with moderate fines and otherwise left alone.
Before I started homeschooling, I researched, read articles and talked to other homeschoolers. Fortunately, I did not have to sit in a court room weighing the cons of homeschooling. My neighbors did not have to block the police from removing my children from our home because we homeschooled. The Global Post reports this 2006 incident in Krista Kapralos' 2010 article:
Romeike's heart stopped. He didn't know what to do. He prayed the officers would go away if he didn't answer the door. Instead, Romeike said, the officers left a voice message threatening to break in.
Soon after, Romeike and his wife, Hannelore, stood on their front porch with their two youngest children and watched the van drive away, their three oldest children in the back.
The family knew that it was illegal to not enroll children in a state-registered school in Germany.But Uwe Romeike never thought it would come to that.
"I felt very helpless, " he said. "My children were crying, the police were shouting."
After being approached at a 2008 homeschool conference by Home School Legal Defense Association lawyer, Michael Donnelly, rather than going to Austria or another European country allowing home education, the family sought sanctuary in the United States. Homeschooling is legal in this country, albeit more difficult in some states. Ironically, the reason some states are more laborious is because HSLDA interfered in some state laws. HSLDA hoped to expand their reach overseas. Again, from the New York Times in 2010 – by Campbell Robertson:
Long before the Romeikes had begun their fight, lawyers at the [HSLDA] association had been discussing the situation in Germany. They had tried litigating cases one by one, usually unsuccessfully.
In 2006, after the European Court of Human Rights declined to hear a petition by home-schooling parents that had failed in German courts, lawyers at the association decided to add a political line of attack to the legal one, both to raise awareness of the German policies and to find some broader solution to the issue.
At a brainstorming session, one of the lawyers, Jim Mason, came up with the idea of petitioning for political asylum.
“I don’t know German law or German courts,” Mr. Mason said, “but I do know American courts.”
The family of seven moved to Morristown, Tennessee. The 2010 asylum request was granted by Judge Lawrence Burman in the Memphis Immigration Court. To qualify for asylum, the applicant must show that they are refugees suffering past persecution, or a well-founded fear of future persecution in their home country, on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Judge Burman determined of three potential factors in this case, political opinion wasn’t an issue. But it was determined, he “did find that the homeschoolers are a particular social group for the purpose of asylum law.” He also decided this: "Germany was not willing to let them follow their religion, not willing to let them raise their children, the the United States should serve as a place of refuge for the applicants." The Deutsche-Welle's Andrew Bowen points out the German"embryonic democracy" via Hans Bruegelmann, an education professor at the University of Siegen:
"The school is an embryonic democracy and will help to integrate children and young people coming from different backgrounds into the democratic culture," he said.
Integration into democracy and learning to get along with those who hold opposing opinions are important skills that children cannot learn when homeschooled, Bruegelmann said, and that is especially true with highly religious parents.
"They should not have the right to indoctrinate their children," he said. "It's important for children, besides the experience they make at home, which is respected, to have access to other sources of understanding the world."
American homeschoolers endure many [public] education professor opinions regarding our family rights to homeschool. But, unlike our United States fundamental rights, Professor Bruegelmann seems to have the German law behind his opinions regarding family indoctrination.
From Germany's Article 6 (Marriage and the Family; Children Born Outside the Family)
The care and upbringing of children is the natural right of parents and a duty primarily incumbent upon them. The State shall watch over them in the performance of this duty.
Within weeks of the 2010 decision, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement contested the Burman decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals struck down the Burman decision. There's been a difference of opinion among many, including this Georgetown Law School Professor from the 2010 NY Times article:
“It is definitely new,” said Prof. Philip G. Schrag, the director of Georgetown Law School’s asylum law program, who added that he had never heard of such a case. “What’s novel about the argument is the nature of the social group.”
But, he said, given the severity of the penalties that German home-schoolers potentially face, the judge’s decision “does not seem far outside the margin.”
Boston College Law School's Miki Kawashima Matrician released a Note in the Boston College International & Comparative Law Review justifying homeschoolers as a "particular social group". Matrician's article [German Homeschoolers as "Particular Social Group": Evaluation Under Current U.S. Asylum Jurisprudence] concluded:
The BIA can and should find that the family is a member of a “particular social group” under either the immutable characteristics or the social perceptions approaches. German homeschoolers share characteristics, the validity of which are recognized by international law, that ought not to be changes. The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, the ICESCR, and the European Convention for Human Rights all recognize a parent’s right to choose the appropriate educational venue for her child. Moreover, homeschoolers in Germany join organization to provide support for each other, exchange ideas, and share legal representation. They are perceived as a recognizable group by their alleged persecutor, as well as by society at large- in Germany and abroad.
This approach will realize the vision intended by Congress in its enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980. In formulating a cogent standard, DHS, BIA, and the courts must not be blinded by fears of a flood of applicants. They should strive to fulfill the humanitarian obligations required by the Convention, to provide a safe haven for those in dire straits.
The Obama administration is certainly not known for their homeschooling friendliness. But this decision to fight against this German family's asylum in the United States doesn't seem to revolve around that so much as fears of offending an ally, along with all the other typical bureaucratic bungling. There can certainly be a concern with the Obama administration persistence in this case, as homeschoolers in the United States would not ever want to face the real fear and financial penalties suffered by the Romeikes. This case will be an intriguing situation for homeschoolers all around the world, fear mongering aside.