German, Austrian home-school families face difficulties with government

BY LAUREN RAMSEYER AND SARAH KENNEY
Staff Writer and Austria Correspondent

The persecution of those who choose to educate their children at home is not only bringing conflict in Germany as recent news has highlighted, but also in Austria, impacting Franciscan University professors.

Many people have heard of the Romeike family who was threatened with deportation from the United States when they came seeking asylum from their homeland in Germany.

According to releases from ABC News at the beginning of March, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their seven children have been allowed to remain in the United States and will not be deported back to Germany.

The Romeike family won the battle to home-school their children, but there are some of Franciscan’s own professors fighting the same battle.

William Newton has been teaching in Gaming, Austria, for 10 years and at Franciscan’s Austrian campus for a year and a half. Newton and his wife, Claire, are from England and have six children.

Newton said he and his wife choose to home-school their children.

“We didn’t feel we had access to schools we’d be comfortable to send our kids to for faith reasons,” he said. They also wanted a more classical education for their children.

Newton said that Austria allows home schooling as an option, but it doesn’t have equality with the Austrian public schools. The Newton children have to pass state school examinations every year, but the Newtons aren’t educated in German, so they failed the examinations.

Formerly, students could take the exam at the English school in Vienna, but the Austrian government is not accepting those exams anymore, said Newton. As a result, the Newtons are fined about 2,500 euros per child every year.

They have fought this new development in court that has resulted in reducing their fines, but they ultimately lost and are waiting to be prosecuted further.

Newton said that the worse case scenario for a parent was for his children to be taken away.

The Newtons have been threatened with being reported to social services for abusing their children by not sending them to the public schools. The Newtons went to social services, but they were not interested in the Newtons because they saw that they are taking good care of their children.

“There have been times when we’ve thought, ‘Should we just leave the country?’” said Newton, because they cannot risk the possibility of their children being taken away. He added that they currently feel that the Austrian government is not a threat in that regard.

“They are not like the Germans … they are not like the Swedes,” said Newton. Unlike Germany, the Austrian law says they can legally home-school. It is only the current implication of the tests and fines that are causing problems.

Newton said that they are not trying to demonize the government, but they are just trying to raise awareness of the situation.

To find more information about the Newton’s struggle and other families like them, including another Austrian professor, Robert Cassidy, visit their website: primaryeducators.net.

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