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German hybrid school challenges restrictive educational system at ECtHR


Topic | Freedom of Education | Parental Rights

A “hybrid school” provider based in Germany is challenging the state’s restrictive educational model. After the initial application in 2014, the Association for Decentralized Learning was denied approval to offer primary and secondary education by German authorities, despite fulfilling all state-mandated criteria and curricula.  

The schools run by the Association are based on an innovative and increasingly popular model of hybrid education with both in school and at home learning. Students spend one day per week in school and learn the rest of the time from home. State-approved teachers educate in virtual classrooms, via phone or in home visits. 

Per the administrative courts, hybrid school students would spend too little time together during breaks and between lessons. For this reason, their accreditation was denied. 

Dr. Felix Böllmann, German lawyer and Director of European Advocacy for ADF International filed the case for freedom of education at the ECtHR. 

Association for Decentralized Learning v Germany 


Advocacy Team:
Dr. Felix Böllmann

Germany schooling case

"Children have a right to education. At our school, we can provide families with first-class education that meets their individual learning needs and allows students to flourish."

Case Summary

The Association for Decentralized Learning, a school provider, promotes the “Uracher Plan”, a pedagogical framework for hybrid learning. In 2014 the association applied for accreditation for “hybrid schools” offering primary and secondary education. The schools would follow a proven pedagogical concept with state-accredited teachers and standardized examinations. The concept allows for hybrid learning—an innovative model combining in-school and at-home learning.  

“The right to education includes the right to embrace innovative approaches like hybrid schooling. By restricting this educational model, the state is violating the right of German parents to pursue education for their children that conforms with their convictions. When it comes to the requirement of physical presence, Germany has one of the most restrictive educational systems in the world. The fact that an innovative school based on Christian values has been denied recognition is a serious development worthy of scrutiny by the Court. The case brings to light the egregious issues with educational freedom in the country,” stated German lawyer Dr. Felix Böllmann, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, who filed the case at the ECtHR.

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School was denied accreditation despite following state criteria   

The association’s application was ignored by state educational authorities for 3 years. In 2017, they filed a suit due to the inaction, with the first court hearing taking place only in 2019, appeal in 2021, and third instance court in May of 2022. The Constitutional Court rejected the last domestic appeal in December 2022.  

For nine years, while the accreditation was pending, the school’s founder successfully operated the Dietrich Bonhoeffer International School. The school employs state-approved teachers and follows a set curriculum. Students graduate with the same examinations as those in public schools and maintain above average grade points. 

School combines “modern technology, individual student responsibility and weekly classroom attendance” 

“Children have a right to education. At our school, we can provide families with an first class education that meets their individual learning needs and allows students to flourish. It is our great hope that the Court will right this injustice and rule in favor of educational freedom, recognising that our school provide innovative and high-standard education through modern technology, individual student responsibility, and scheduled weekly classroom attendance,” stated Jonathan Erz, Head of the association for decentralized learning.  

The Association has been denied approval for the two private schools. The administrative courts acknowledged the satisfactory level of education, however criticized the model on the basis that due to the hybrid nature of the school, students spend little time together during breaks and between lessons. In a questionable extension of existing precedents’ reasoning, the administrative courts held that this is an essential part of education that hybrid schooling fails to provide.   

Germany in violation of international law

Germany, with a ban on homeschooling and severe educational restrictions, is in violation of the right to educational freedom as enshrined in its own constitution and in international law.  

“It is established clearly in international law that parents are the first authority for the education of their children. What the German state is doing to undermine education is an overt violation of not only freedom of education, but also of parental rights. Moreover, distance learning during Covid-19 lockdowns demonstrates that a complete ban on independent and digitally supported learning is out of date,” stated Böllmann. 

International law specifically recognizes the liberty of bodies, such as the Association, to establish and direct educational institutions without interference, subject to “the requirement that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State”. (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 13.4)  

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