German family seeks U.S. asylum to homeschool kids
Rose French -
Associated Press MORRISTOWN, Tenn.3/31/2009 - Homeschooling is so important to
Uwe Romeike that the classically trained pianist sold his beloved grand
pianos to pay for moving his wife and five children from Germany to the
Smoky Mountain foothills of Tennessee.
Romeike, his wife Hannelore, and their children live in a modest duplex
about 40 miles northeast of Knoxville while they seek political asylum
here. They say they were persecuted for their evangelical Christian
beliefs and homeschooling their children in Germany, where school
attendance is compulsory.
When the Romeikes wouldn't comply with repeated orders to send the
children to school, police came to their home one October morning in
2006 and took the children, crying and upset, to school. "We tried not
to open the door, but they (police) kept ringing the doorbell for 15 or
20 minutes," Romeike said. "They called us by phone and spoke on the
answering machine and said they would knock open the door if we didn't
open it. So I opened it."
Romeike, like many conservative parents in the U.S., said he wanted to
teach his own children because his children's German school textbooks
contained language and ideas that conflicted with his family's values.
He had to pay fines equivalent to hundreds of dollars for his decision,
and he's afraid that if he returns to Germany, police will arrest him
and government authorities will take away his children, who range in age
from 11 to 3.
The Romeike asylum case is expected to go before an immigration judge in
Memphis on Thursday, according to Michael Donnelly, an attorney with the
Home School Legal Defense Association representing the family.
Bernadette Meyler, a Cornell Law School professor who has studied
differences in religious liberty between the U.S. and Europe, said she's
never heard of another case like this in the U.S.
Ana Santiago, a regional spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services, said the agency is barred from discussing specific
political asylum cases and doesn't keep track of the reasons asylum is
Donnelly says the Romeikes saw more freedom to homeschool in the U.S.
"Germany sticks out in the midst of Western Europe for having this harsh
repression against parents," Donnelly said. "They have this notion that
homeschool creates this parallel society and they deem that as dangerous."
Lutz Gorgens, German consul general for the Southeast U.S., said he's
not familiar with the Romeikes' specific situation but believes the
claim of persecution is "far-fetched." He defended Germany's
requirements for public education. "For reasons deeply rooted in history
and our belief that only schools properly can ensure the desired level
of excellent education, we (Germany) go a little bit beyond that path
which other countries have chosen," Gorgens said.
Germany's approach to homeschooling is starkly different to the U.S. and
other European countries. Homeschool students have been growing by an
estimated eight percent annually in the U.S. and as of 2007 totaled
about 1.5 million. Only about 500 children in Germany are taught at
home, experts estimate.
Romeike took his three oldest children out of school in
Bietigheim-Bissingen in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in 2006. His
oldest child, Daniel, had a health textbook that used slang terms to
describe sexual relations - including the German equivalent of the
"F-word." Other schoolbooks taught disrespect of authority figures and
had images and tales about the occult, that included vampires and
witches, Romeike said.
"It's really different in public schools today than when I was in public
school," Romeike said. "They (the state) believe children must be
socialized and all kids must grow up the same and act the same,
otherwise they wouldn't fit in society."
German state constitutions require children attend public schools.
Parents who don't comply face punishment ranging from fines to prison
time. Germany's highest appellate court ruled in November 2007 that, in
severe cases, social services officials could remove children from their
Not long after the Romeikes removed their children from school in
September 2006, the principal talked to the parents about their concerns
but urged them to send their children back to class. A letter from the
town mayor said the couple would be fined 30 euros per child each day
they weren't in school. When the Romeikes didn't comply, police went to
the home the following month.
Susanne Neib, spokeswoman for Baden-Wuerttemberg's Ministry of
Education, Youth Affairs and Sports, said that when authorities learn of
cases like the Romeikes, they visit the home to explain the benefits of
public school. She said the state tries to intervene against
homeschooling very rarely, though she declined to estimate how often
such cases arise.
The Romeikes went before a German district judge in 2007 to defend their
homeschooling but lost, and higher courts refused to look at the case.
Donnelly's group helped the family move last August to Morristown, where
the Romeikes say numerous other families homeschool their children.
Meyler said the U.S. is more tolerant of homeschooling because of
religion's prominence in the country's founding. Germany is more
concerned about educating students equally, she said. "The idea is
homeschooling might lead to the emergence of separate societies that
would not share the same vision of the (German) state," Meyler said.
But interest in homeschooling hasn't died out. Elisabeth Kuhnle of the
Network for Education Freedom, a German homeschool advocacy group, says
as many as 50 families attended a recent meeting in Baden-Wuerttemberg.
The consul, Gorgens, and other officials maintain that most parents in
Germany believe it's most appropriate to send children to schools. "If
you put that to a vote, I'm sure that the obligation to send kids to
school would be overwhelmingly accepted. It's a popular thing, which
does not say that every single parent is happy about it."