The applicants, Dirk Wunderlich and Petra Wunderlich, are two German nationals who were born in 1966 and 1967 respectively. They are a married couple and are the parents of four children. The case concerns the withdrawal of some aspects of their parental authority and the removal of their children from their home for three weeks after the applicants refused to send them to school.
By a letter of 13 July 2012 the State Education Authority (staatliches Schulamt), supported by the youth office, informed the family court that Mr and Mrs Wunderlich were deliberately and persistently refusing to send their children to school, thereby endangering the children’s best interests as they were growing up in a “parallel world”. Two months later the Darmstadt Family Court withdrew the applicants’ right to determine their children’s place of residence and their right to take decisions on school matters and transferred these rights to the youth office. It also ordered them to hand their children over to the youth office for enforcement of the rules on compulsory school attendance. It found in particular that the parents’ refusal to send their children to school prevented them from becoming part of the community and learning social skills such as tolerance.
Attempts by the youth office to conduct learning assessments of the children failed on several occasions between 2012 and 2013.
In April 2013 the Frankfurt a.M. Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by the parents against the family court’s decision. It considered that there was a concrete danger to the children’s best interests as the education they were receiving from their parents could not be considered as compensating for not attending school. In October 2014 the Federal Constitutional Court refused to accept a constitutional complaint by Mr and Mrs Wunderlich for adjudication.
The children were removed and placed in a children’s home for three weeks between August and September 2013. They attended school between 2013 and 2014. In June 2014 they again withdrew their children from school. Two months later, in parallel proceedings, the Frankfurt a.M. Court of Appeal transferred the right to determine the children’s place of residence back to the applicants, noting in particular that the learning assessment had shown that the children’s level of knowledge was not alarming and that, in contrast to August 2013, a risk from Mr Wunderlich to their physical integrity could now be excluded. The Court of Appeal, however, emphasised that the decision should not be understood as permission to educate the children at home.
Relying on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Mr and Mrs Wunderlich complain about the decision by the German authorities to withdraw parts of their parental authority rights by transferring them to the youth office and by executing that withdrawal in the form of forcibly removing the children from their parents and placing them in a children’s home for three weeks.
Press release ECHR 001 (2019) 04.01.2019
Anmerkung der Redaktion
Zu dem o.g. Beschluss des BVerfG s. die Besprechung „Die Schule der Gesellschaft und die Gesellschaft der Schule – Zwei Bemerkungen zum Heimunterrichtsbeschluss des BVerfG“