How German Homeschoolers Won Asylum in the U.S.
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).
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…
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