How German Homeschoolers Won Asylum in the USA

Uwe Romeike and his wife Hannelore work with their children at home in Morristown, Tenn.

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike are not like other asylum seekers, people fleeing war or torture in places like Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia. They're music teachers from a village in southern Germany. And yet, in what appears to be the first case of its kind, the couple and their five children were granted asylum in the U.S. last week by an immigration judge who ruled that they had a "well-founded fear of persecution" in their home country for engaging in what has become a popular albeit somewhat controversial American practice — homeschooling their children.

The Romeikes, who are Evangelical Christians, took their three eldest children out of school in the town of Bissingen in 2006 because they were concerned about the impact the government-approved curriculum and the public-school environment would have on their social development. "Over the past 10 to 20 years, the curriculum in public schools in Germany has been more and more against Christian values, and my eldest children were having problems with violence, bullying and peer pressure. It's important for parents to have the freedom to choose the way their children can be taught," Uwe Romeike said in a statement provided by the couple's attorney, Michael Donnelly of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).(See pictures of East Germany making light of its past.)

But here's the problem: in Germany it's compulsory for children to attend school, and the Romeikes soon found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Local authorities slapped the couple with a $10,000 fine, and police even took their children to school when the Romeikes refused to send them. Fearing that they could lose custody of their kids or even be put in jail, the Romeikes fled to the U.S. in 2008, looking for a community where they could educate their kids as they saw fit.

That's exactly what they found in Morristown, Tenn., a town of about 27,000 deep in the Bible Belt. Donnelly says the Romeikes flourished in the environment, becoming "very disciplined" teachers tackling subjects like math, history and social science with the help of textbooks and other teaching materials, all in accordance with state law. The couple also joined a local group that organizes activities and field trips for homeschooled children in the area. Once they were settled in their new community, they applied for asylum in the U.S., claiming they'd be persecuted if they were sent back to Germany.(See pictures of Detroit school kids' dreams of the future.)

Memphis judge Lawrence Burman's ruling sparked outrage in Germany. Authorities in the state of Baden-Württemberg, where the Romeikes had lived, angrily dismissed suggestions that the couple had been persecuted. "We have compulsory schooling, and this law applies to everyone, including the Romeikes," says Thomas Hilsenbeck, a spokesman for the state Education Ministry. "If parents don't want to send their children to a public school, they can send them to alternative private schools."

While there is a thriving homeschool movement in the U.S. — some 2 million children are now taught at home, or about 4% of the total school-age population, according to HSLDA — it is still a very new concept in Germany. According to the German media, there are only between 500 and 1,000 families in the country who homeschool their children — most in violation of the law. According to the compulsory-education statute introduced by the Prussians in the 18th century, all children must attend school from the ages of 6 to 16. And it's traditionally been viewed as a child's right rather than an obligation. "Compulsory schooling is one of the greatest social achievements of our time," Josef Kraus, head of the German Teachers' Association, tells TIME. "This law protects children."(Read a TIME cover story on how to save America's schools.)

Kraus strongly disagrees with the asylum ruling, saying it "treated Germany like a banana republic instead of a democratic country with its own laws." He also argues that homeschooling deprives children of important social lessons. "No parental couple can offer a breadth of education and replace experienced teachers. Kids also lose contact with their peers," he says. Advocates of homeschooling, however, argue that children benefit from tailored one-on-one instruction and that they're able to learn at their own pace without distractions in the classroom. The HSLDA goes one step further, saying research suggests that homeschooled children score significantly higher than their peers on standardized achievement tests.(See pictures of the college dorm.)

The ruling is sure to ignite passions on both sides of the debate — and may spur other parents around the world to follow the Romeikes' lead. If this happens, the U.S. could see a flood of a new type of refugees —educational asylum seekers.

Read "A Homeschooling Win in California."

Read more:,8599,1958059,00.html#ixzz0fzLD5Oup

US grants home schooling German family political asylum

Couple who fled to Tennessee fearing persecution for keeping their children out of school win first case of its kind in US

A US judge has granted political asylum to a German family who said they had fled the country to avoid persecution for home schooling their children.

In the first reported case of its kind, Tennessee immigration judge Lawrence Burman ruled that the family of seven have a legitimate fear of prosecution for their beliefs. Germany requires parents to enrol their children in school in most cases and has levied fines against those who ­educate their children at home.

Christians Uwe Romeike, a piano teacher, and his wife, Hannelore, moved to Morristown, Tennessee, in 2008 after German authorities fined them thousands of euros for keeping their children out of school and sent police to escort them to classes, Romeike said. They had been holding classes in their home.

Along with thousands of torture victims, political dissidents, members of religious minorities and other persecuted groups who win political asylum every year, the Romeike family will now be free to live and work in the US. The case does not create a legal precedent unless the US government appeals and a higher immigration court hears the case.

"Home schoolers in Germany are a particular social group, which is one of the protected grounds under the asylum law," said Mike Connelly, attorney for the Home School Legal Defence Association, who argued the case. "This judge looked at the evidence, he heard their testimony, and he felt that the way Germany is treating home schoolers is wrong. The rights being violated here are basic human rights."

In 2006 the Romeikes pulled their children out of a state school in Bissingen, Germany, in protest of what they deemed an anti-Christian curriculum.

They said textbooks presented ideas and language that conflicted with their Christian beliefs, including slang terms for sex acts and images of vampires and witches, while the school offered what they described as ethics lessons from Islam, Buddhism and other religions. The eldest son got into fights in school and the eldest daughter had trouble studying.

"I think it's important for parents to have the freedom to chose the way their children can be taught," Romeike told the Associated Press.

About 1.5 million US children are taught at home. In Morristown, a town of about 27,000, the Romeikes have connected with other home schooling families, organising field trips and other activities.

The German consul general for the southeastern US said in a statement that mandatory school attendance ensures a high education standard for all children, adding that parents have many educational options.

In 2008, the US government received more than 47,000 applications for political asylum and granted 10,743, including four from Germany.

Connelly said this was the first time home schooling had been the central issue in a US political asylum case.

US judge grants German homeschooling family asylum


Homeschooling has been illegal in Germany for most of the 20th century. But a decision in the United States granting asylum to a German homeschooling couple has revived an ongoing debate on the freedom of education.


An American judge on Tuesday granted asylum to a German couple who wanted to homeschool their children, bringing international attention to the debate in Germany over the rights of parents to freely educate their children.

The decision came from immigration judge Lawrence O. Burman in Memphis, Tennessee. Judge Burman said the German government violated Uwe and Hannelore Romeike's "basic human rights," according to the website of the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Virginia-based pro-homeschooling organization that represented the couple.

"Homeschoolers are a particular social group that the German government is trying to suppress," Burman was quoted as saying. "This family has a well-founded fear of persecution … therefore, they are eligible for asylum."

A religious family

The Romeikes moved with their five children to Tennessee in August 2008 and applied for asylum shortly thereafter.

Uwe Romeike and his wife Hannelore work with their children at homeUwe and his wife Hannelore say German public schools cannot be neutral

The parents identify themselves as evangelical Christians and say religion was the primary reason why they chose to homeschool their children. Hannelore Romeike said public education can never be neutral.

"During the last 10-20 years the curriculum in public schools has been more and more against Christian values," she told the Associated Press. "We communicate our values, the teachers communicate theirs, and if the kids are at school, we cannot have an influence on what they learn."

Atlanta-based German consul Lutz Goergens declined to comment directly on the Romeike case, but he pointed out that German parents can send their children to private or religious schools as an alternative to public schools.

Academic freedom

While religious homeschoolers are often covered in the media, they don't represent all German homeschooling families, said Dagmar Neubronner, a publisher and therapist in Bremen who moved her children from Germany to France to homeschool them.

Neubronner told Deutsche Welle when her children were in public schools they often complained of not having enough academic freedom and of noise and disruptions from classmates.

"Our children didn't thrive in school," she said.

The Romeike family in their homeBruegelmann says all children should be exposed to diversity of opinion

After attempting to get permission from German courts to homeschool her children, she says she was threatened with fines and jail time. It was then that she and her husband decided to move their children to France where they could legally homeschool them.

When asked whether homeschooled children have difficulty integrating into society, Neubronner said those claims were "not proven by reality."

"Just look around to all those countries where homeschooling is permitted," she said. "You don't find a group of ex-homeschoolers who fail in life."

'Embryonic democracy'

The German laws mandating public-school attendance date back to Germany's first experiment with democracy in 1919, according to Hans Bruegelmann, an education professor at the University of Siegen.

Bruegelmann said previously private education was only available to the elite, and that the public-school mandate was a clear political choice.

"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."

When asked about Germans' opinions on the public school mandate, Bruegelmann said he thought most Germans supported it.

He admitted, however, that he could not say whether that was because they truly believed in it or if it was simply what they were accustomed to.

Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Nancy Isenson