Harder Family Case begins a movement

In 1999, a Russian-German couple, the Harders with 10-children decided that they could no longer with their Christian conscience, send their children to the public school. They removed their children from school and brought them home and began to homeschool them.

It wasn’t long before school officials notified them that they had better get their children back to school or else! The Harders remained firm in their conviction to homeschool. Eventually the dispute between the Harders and school officials escalated to the point where the family felt terribly threatened.

Since word had spread that my wife and I were homeschoolers in Germany and had led several other families in the community where we lived at the time to homeschool, and also helped them to deal with school officials who were viciously opposed to homeschooling, the Harders contacted us and asked for our help. At this time they were already being represented by a Christian lawyer who later would become chief attorney for our organization, Schuzh.

Mrs. Harder was pregnant at the time so the threat of police intervention became traumatic for her. Mr. Harder was concerned that this trauma could lead to a miscarriage. My wife spent many hours on the phone counseling them.

Having a contact to HSLDA through Mike Farris, whom we had met in Germany in 1999 – having arranged a conference for him in Stuttgart – I called HSLDA to ask for their help. I was transferred to Chris Klicka, one of their senior attorneys. I asked Chris if HSLDA could do an eLERT on behalf of the Harder family, which Chris agreed to do (An eLERT is an email that goes out to HSLDA members and friends calling for action).

Homeschoolers Respond

We provided HSLDA with the contact information for officials who we wanted to receive the complaints. For several weeks after the eLERT was sent out by HSLDA to its members urging them to complain about the treatment the Harder family was receiving, government officials were besieged with email complaints. This was reported by the local press where the Harder family lived.

The police humanely waited until after Mrs. Harder gave birth before they forcefully entered the Harder home, smashing a window to allow them entrance. Several of the children hid under beds and in closets. Two children fled to the third floor and jumped out of a window and ran into the woods. One child who held onto her mother was ripped out of her mother’s arms. The father grabbed this child and hung onto her. The oldest child was forcefully brought to school.

A friend of the Harders who came by that morning to help with the children began taking pictures of the police ransacking the home. A policeman grabbed her camera, ripped out the film and smashed the camera to the ground. Because of a flood of protests, the mayor apologized for the incident giving assurances that this would never happen again.

Following this traumatic experience, the Harders eventually moved to another state. We made sure the press covered the story and reported the strong arm tactics used by the government. Our name began to spread even further throughout Germany among circles of parents who were considering pulling their children out of school.

Fighting Back

We discovered along with the Harders that attorneys in Germany who would take homeschool cases were very difficult to find. One attorney, Gabriele Eckermann had volunteered her time in the Harder case and following this case other cases as well.

We discovered that it was most effective to get the story out and make everything as public as possible. It was also very effective to involve other families around the world who were contacted and asked to send letters of complaint to government officials involved in homeschool cases. We began to realize that in order to be the most effective we needed to form a politically active association of homeschoolers who would stand together in support of each other.

The idea of forming a politically active organization, giving homeschoolers a public voice as well as a voice in the government began to formulate in our minds. We visited Gabriele Eckermann and her husband Armin, who is also an attorney, to discuss the formulation of such an association.

We also contacted other attorneys who surfaced as a result of the Harder case. Since we knew through our talks with Chris Klicka that HSLDA had helped form similar organizations in other countries, we contacted Chris for information and invited him to join us on the board when Schuzh finally became incorporated as an organization. We applied for non-profit status but the government would not grant it.

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