Officials Overstep Their Bounds, Families Threatened
By: Mike Donnelly
July 6, 2012
Four homeschooling families living in Austria say local officials are “frustrating” their efforts to home educate their children. The families are contesting the thousands of euros in fines placed upon them and say they are prepared to “confront the school authorities” on this issue. Similarly, several families in France have decided to challenge national education inspectors who they say “consistently overstep the law.” The Deveaux family of Francheville, France has declared they will “fight to earn back our rights under the law.”
In Austria, school officials are requiring a group of foreign families to follow the national curriculum and have demanded that their children be tested in the German language, even though their mother tongue is English. However, the Austrian Ministry of Education has already permitted hundreds of other English-speaking children to be tested in English-speaking private schools.
The Cassidy, Huzovic, Newton, and Terek families have created a website called “Primary Educators” to publicize their struggle and to ask for support for the legal challenge they are mounting. Since September 2011, three of the families have been fined for every day their children have not attended the local state school. These fines now amount to thousands of euros. In addition, the local school inspector informed the families in early June that if the children were not in school in September 2012, social services would be alerted.
Father William Newton explains that a number of foreign families have been home educating their children in Austria for 15 years, having their children take the yearly test required by law at the American school in Vienna.
“The school authorities changed this in 2008,” says Newton. “Since then the officials have required that the annual test be taken in German at the local state school according to the state school curriculum. This is practically impossible for our children to pass, and when they fail the authorities refuse permission to continue home education saying that the parents have failed to prove the quality of the education. The ultimate threat, of course, is that the children shall be taken from us because we are ‘mistreating’ them by not sending them to the local school.”
Fears for Their Son
The Deveaux family in France also worries that the outcome of their court case will be the removal of their 9-year-old son from the home. The family was summoned to court in September 2011 for refusing to cooperate with the demands made by national education inspectors.
Cécile Deveaux says the school inspectors’ lack of information about the French law and home education has made it difficult for families to have their rights respected.
“Education inspectors are authorized by law to conduct annual assessments of homeschooled students, but often the assessments are used as a means to refer home educating families to the social welfare authorities,” explains Deveaux. “Families are not currently required by law to follow French school programs; however, inspectors impose all sorts of requirements that are particularly difficult for families who do not follow the national curriculum, but instead use a variety of curriculums or the method of unschooling. The inspectors then falsely accuse families of refusing to cooperate as soon as a family questions the requirements, so as to immediately refer them to social services. The goal is to trap these families, to bring them to juvenile court, and to discredit the children’s education by any means.”
A Crucial Tool
HSLDA Director of International Relations Michael Donnelly notes that international media coverage is a crucial tool to help government authorities realize that the right of parents to direct the education of their children must be respected.
“It is becoming more and more frequent that we see government authorities blatantly overstepping the bounds of the law—the Domenic Johansson case in Sweden is a prime example. Even in countries such as Austria and France, where homeschooling is legal, families must continue to fight for their rights as they navigate complicated interactions with local officials. The international community is paying attention to these cases. The authorities should take note that these families are not alone.”