War on Homeschoolers Spreading?
Bob Unruh - WND
Annie and Dominic Johannson
The desperate situation of a 7-year-old homeschooled child who was nabbed by Swedish police from an airliner as his family was departing on a move to India and has been kept in custody for weeks is drawing international attention, with officials for the U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association now pressing authorities for help.
The HSLDA, the premier organization in the world advocating for homeschooling, confirmed yesterday it has sent a formal letter to a local Swedish social services unit involved in the case in which Dominic Johansson, of Gottland, was forcibly taken into custody minutes before he and his parents, Christer and Annie Johansson, were due to take off to start a new life in India, Annie's home country.
HSLDA officials fear the virulent anti-homeschool virus they've been battling in Germany for several years is spreading across Europe.
"This kind of gross disregard for family integrity and simple human decency is becoming the hallmark of countries like Germany, and now apparently Sweden," said HSLDA staff attorney Michael Donnelly, "where the state is more interested in coerced uniformity than in protecting fundamental human rights and fostering pluralism.
"In Germany, courts have said that homeschooling creates dangerous 'parallel societies' – an absurd notion that grotesquely turns the notion of pluralism on its head," he said.
WND has reported on multiple cases of persecution of homeschooling families in Germany, including situations when jail terms were ordered for parents of homeschooled children, when a family sought political asylum because of the persecution, and when a teen was taken into German state custody and ordered into a psychiatric ward for the crime of being homeschooled.
"I'm just a normal human being, trying my best to do what I feel is important both in my life and in this world. My family is maybe a little different from the norm, but, when did that become a crime," the father, Christer Johannson, wrote.
He said the "social services and [their] lawyers started to lie and mix facts" about the family, so he decided to go public with his story.
The story also has been highlighted by writer Don Hank at LaiglesForum.
Now the HSLDA has written to the local social services unit as well as Swedish Minister for Education Jan Bjorklund, Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt, Minister for Health and Social Affairs Goran Hagglund, Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask, and ambassadors Jonas Hafstrom and Matthew Barzun.
Donnelly said he's been in touch with the Johannsons.
"Christer told me that the family originally planned to move to India in the spring of 2008. They decided they would homeschool Dominic in order to minimize the disruption of pulling him out of school when they moved and also because Dominic requested it noting that the local public school he had visited was too noisy and stressful," he said.
Hank earlier has described the family's situation:
Christer and Annie Johannson are a Swedish couple from Gotland that attempted last year to home school their son Dominic, a bright and happy 7-year-old, just prior to their leaving the country to take up residence in India. They made all the right moves, informing the school of their plans.
Homewas – and still is – legal in Sweden (there is discussion about banning it) and when Christer asked the principal of the local elementary school if he could supply some teaching materials, he agreed to do so.
But in the meantime, some locals decided that these parents should not be allowed to do this. The reasons for this are no more clear than they are legal …
When Christer went back to the principal to get the materials, he was told that he would not supply any materials and that Dominic must go to school.
The Johannsons insisted that the principal keep his promise. The drama quickly escalated and soon the local social services imposed a fine of 250 kronor per day that Dominic was not in school. This did not intimidate the Johannsons, because they knew they were within their rights under Swedish law.
But the Gottland authorities unanimously stood against them and eventually the court got involved and decided that while the school board had violated some of the parents' rights, they still would have to send Dominic to school.
The Johannsons were on the plane, which was due to leave the gate in one minute when the Swedish police descended on it. Like commandos, they stormed the plane and took Dominic into custody, without stating any reason for doing so. Dominic was so traumatized he later threw up. Annie later fell unconscious to the floor of the police station. The police did nothing to help.
The HSLDA report said the Swedish situation is alarming, in that homeschooling at this point is a protected right in the nation.
"If the facts as stated are true, it appears that the family has been subjected to a gross injustice and the best interests of Dominic are not being upheld," said HSLDA President. J. Michael Smith.
"This case is particularly alarming in light of a recent proposal to the Swedish parliament to impose severe restrictions on home education," he said.
The HSLDA letter to Swedish officials said, "If any of the information as stated above is inaccurate, we would welcome correction of the record. If, however, the situation is as I have recounted, we respectfully request that you reconsider your decisions and return Dominic to his family immediately. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate a grievous harm upon the Johanssons."
"Christer Johansson called me again this morning. He was crying softly, obviously in pain and despair. His wife Annie was taken into emergency room – again. She is suffering from a severe trauma, hard to comprehend. Their son has been taken away from them and put into foster care. Why? They wanted to home school their child, 7-year-old Dominic."
He explains that the Christian parents were planning to return to Annie's home country.
"Annie is from a Christian family in India, and they had planned for some time to move there to live, work and to homeschool Dominic. Due to the harassment from Swedish authorities the trip was delayed. But finally in June this year they were on their way, sitting on the plane bound for India. Then the police came rushing into the plane – as if they were to apprehend dangerous terrorists – and snatched Dominic, saying he is to be taken into care. Can anyone imagine?" Tunehaga wrote.
A family's court case now technically is on appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court.
"My wife and son and I are under extreme pain from this separation. On his eighth birthday just a few weeks ago we were only able to see him for two hours at the office of the social workers. We are not permitted to call him or write to him. And his grandparents were not able to see him either. In the last three months since he was taken we have only been permitted to see him for a total of about eight hours. We cannot believe that such a thing as this could happen in a country like Sweden. We are doing our best to be kind and cooperative. All we want is to have our son home so we can get back to being a family again," Christer said.
The HSLDA letter, addressed to Marika Gardell at the Swedish social services agency, said, "We understand that Swedish law permits parents to educate their children at home and that the local school board is responsible for overseeing the process of notification. However, it appears that in this case, the local school board ignored normal procedure, did not meet with the family to assist them in pursuing home education, and instead fined them and referred the matter to the local court."
"Despite the court and your agency's knowledge and implied approval of the planned relocation, your agency seized Dominic, and it appears that the primary motivation was opposition to him being homeschooled. Swedish news reports quote local officials as saying that said the seizure was necessary in order to 'protect [Dominic's] right to education.' News reports also indicate that both Dominic and his parents were seriously harmed by this action and continue to suffer harm from continued separation and limited visits…"
The letter cited the Treaty of Amsterdam, which calls for "respect of fundamental rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and formalizes the judgments of the European Court of Justice on such matters."
"The case of the Johanssons may be the first shot in extending this type of repression to another European country – all in the name of uniformity and conformity. This spectre is raising its head not just in Sweden but in other places including Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland where there are attempts to impose additional restrictions on home education," Donnelly said.
Michael Farris, HSLDA chairman and president of ParentalRights.org, set up to protect Americans from the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, agreed."Any nation that severely restricts the ability of parents to choose alternative forms of education, including home education, in the name of creating national unity, cannot call itself a free nation. Freedom necessarily requires the individual to have the liberty to think differently and believe differently than programs instituted by the current rulers of any nation. Educational freedom is the cornerstone for all freedom of thought and conscience," he said.