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Violation of freedom of education: Germany denies Christian private school accreditation, case filed at Europe’s top human rights court

Strasbourg (5 May 2023) – A Christian hybrid school provider, based in Laichingen, Germany, is challenging the German state’s restrictive educational system. 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 school run by the Association is based on an innovative and increasingly popular model of hybrid education with both in school and at home learning.  

On 2 May, lawyers from the human rights organization ADF International filed the case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).  

“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 citizens to pursue education 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. 

The Association initially filed for accreditation in 2014, which 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. 

Hybrid education, successful and popular, yet restricted 

For nine years, the Association for Decentralized Learning has been successfully running an independent hybrid school, combining in-class learning with digital online lessons and independent learning at home. 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. 

“Children have a right to a first-class education. At our school, we can provide families with an 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 weekly attendance hours,” stated Jonathan Erz, Head of the association for decentralized learning. 

The Association has been denied approval to open any new schools. The administrative courts acknowledged the satisfactory level of education but 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. Per the domestic courts, this is an essential part of education that hybrid schooling fails to provide.  

Educational restrictions violate international law and national 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. 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) 

 Governments are obliged to respect “the liberty of parents … to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”. (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 13.3) 

With regard to the law, Dr. Böllmann stated: “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”. 

The German Basic Law (Article 7 of the Constitution) guarantees the right to establish private schools—however, the domestic courts’ interpretation render this right ineffective. ADF International lawyers argue that this, in turn, is a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.Time and again, the European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that the Convention rights must be be practical and effective.  

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