Our story continues

Full-time homeschool legal assistance in Germany begins.

In January 2002, the stress of building a new house, working long hours in our business and at the same time helping new homeschool families, who had decided to remove their children from school caused me to have severe health problems. When my health began to recover to the point that I could resume our marketing business in late summer 2003, we had to make a decision.

Since the homeschooling movement in Germany was growing rapidly and we were beginning to be contacted on a very regular basis asking for assistance (usually with a request to travel a long distances to join a couple who was meeting with government officials because they were afraid to attend these meetings alone), we had to make a decision.

Before I fell ill, we were working for Schuzh on a part time basis. We knew that now if we would go full time into our marketing business again that this would be a full time endeavor. We would not have the time and energy to both attend to our business and to help homeschoolers.

We talked it over with Armin Eckermann, the president of Schuzh. We told him that if we could find donors we would make the decision to work full time taking care of homeschool families instead of resurrecting our marketing business that we were forced to lay aside due to my failing health problems. He was excited. We also talked it over with Chris Klicka. Chris was concerned that we couldn’t find enough funds to meet our needs. He thought it would be better if we would do both our business as well as work for Schuzh.

I explained to him why this wouldn’t work. We told him that we would like to make a test run in an attempt to raise the needed funds. Our concern was how to go about it and how to take it in.

Going Full-time

Chris immediately offered that he would discuss with Mike Smith the possibility of HSLDA raising the funds so that donors could write off their donations. As it turned out, Home School Foundation took in the money for us. We were amazed at this offer. Chris called back an hour or so later to inform us that Mike agreed that HSLDA would work to raise the funds necessary to pay for our employment with Schuzh. Others in Germany were excited that we would be working full time for Schuzh.

Chris was concerned because he said that HSLDA had never sent money to a foreign ministry. We were trying to find the most economical way to take in the funds. After researching the matter, it was finally decided that HSLDA would send the money for our work to Schuzh, and Schuzh would forward it on to reimburse the Smiths for the work we did for Schuzh.

A telephone conference between Armin Eckermann, Chris Klicka and us was held in early December 2003 and several times after to formulate a contract. What was important for us was that everything was transparent. I began to send HSLDA regular reports of our accomplishments. Chris liked them and began to ask for them. He emailed that he was happy with these reports “as they showed that the money was being wisely spent”.

Donations for Germany

Chris sent out a request to HSLDA members asking for donations for Germany in late November, 2003. He called me a few days later to tell me that money was pouring in. On December 2 he emailed asking if Schuzh was a tax exempt, charitable organization. I emailed back the next day that Schuzh was not. He knew that we had submitted an application requesting this status from the German government. We had hoped the German government would grant us this status but believe the request was denied because we were a political organization as well as a legal organization similar to HSLDA.

At any rate, Chris asked me to ask for a grant from Home School Foundation. Not knowing how nonprofits operated or the laws that governed them, I assumed that this was the proper way for HSLDA to give us the money they had taken in for our ministry. When a grant form was emailed to me, I emailed back that this must be the wrong form.

Chris called to tell me that it was the form I should use because HSF “had yet to create a new form”. I also received an email from a Michael@hslda.org stating: “Yes, this is the correct form. The title might be misleading, as the application is used primarily for our ‘discount groups’ here in the US.

Chuck Hurst, Director of the Homeschool Foundation, indicated that this is the form you should use, as we have not yet developed an application form specifically for foreign grants. Simply disregard any sections on the form that do not apply to your group.”

Chris explained to me how to fill it out, which I did. A few days later Armin Eckermann, the president and treasurer of Schuzh, called to tell us that HSLDA had sent $10,000 to the Schuzh account and that he would transfer it to cover the cost of our work just like we had agreed upon during our telephone conference a few days earlier.

Germany Homeschool Ministry Begins

Our full time work to assist German homeschoolers began in earnest. Zelda and I traveled throughout Germany searching out attorneys who would take homeschool cases of Schuzh member families. A Schuzh membership cost 150 Euros per family per year. This money was to be used to supplement costs in the event that HSLDA fell short with their donations to cover the work of the Smiths. Normally member families paid their own legal costs. When Schuzh did offer to take a case, Gabriele Eckermann took it free of charge.

Families were happy to join just by the simple fact that we could arrange for them legal counsel. The biggest reason attorneys were afraid to take homeschool cases was because they were afraid of being blackballed in their profession. Homeschooling was considered illegal in Germany even though it was allowed by the German constitution. An attorney representing homeschoolers could be viewed as representing someone who was knowingly breaking the law – most thought it unhealthy for a child not to go to school.

Zelda and I worked long and hard hours. We had established a 24-hour hot-line for parents who needed to have their questions answered. It was not uncommon for a couple to call sometime during the night because they had been summoned to appear before an official in the morning and they were afraid. We sometimes had to leave on short notice to be with these families and appear with them. We were often away from home attending meetings with homeschool families who were scheduled to appear before city, state and federal officials.

On most occasions we were successful in helping these families to be able to continue to homeschool. By appearing with these families we for the most part were able to prevent their cases from being litigated. We also lobbied government officials, put on national homeschool conferences, and helped network groups, putting them into contact with each other and working together with them. We were often interviewed by newspapers, radio and television stations. We wrote articles and encouraged others to write as well.

German Christian Curriculum Written

We helped to establish an organization to create a Christian curriculum in the German language. We were invited to speak at national conservative gatherings. We co-founded a Christian high school in Basel, Switzerland, the only accredited Christian high school in all of Switzerland. We used this as a model for other schools and home schools to copy.

Gabriele Eckermann worked countless hours defending families who were unfortunately hauled into court. These families were usually families who did not join Schuzh until they found themselves in great trouble and were faced with court proceedings.

They were homeschooling underground believing that if they joined Schuzh the government might discover them. These families had usually dug themselves into very deep holes by the time they contacted us. When they did contact us, we would ask them to join Schuzh. If their situation had progressed beyond the point where Zelda and I could help them and they needed an attorney, Gabriele would take these cases on a gratuitous basis if she could find time on her very busy schedule.

Homeschool Press Coverage

Our work was very important and we had many successes. Local and national press were constantly calling to do interviews and asking for families they could contact for personal interviews as well. Our stories were important for the press for several reasons, the most important probably being that they were out of the norm. They were new and sensational.

What was homeschooling and who had ever heard of it and why was the government so firm in its attempt to squelch the movement since it was generally allowed in all of the other EU countries surrounding Germany? Why such an international outcry against the government and its tactics against homeschool families?

Schuzh sponsored four national homeschool conventions. These conventions were astonishingly well attended despite parents being afraid that if they attended, the government might discover that they were homeschooling their children and begin proceedings against them. We had to ask the press not to take pictures of faces. Our conventions received very positive local and national press. Major radio and television stations were asking us to appear on their programs for discussion and debate, oftentimes during prime time.

We believed that our weapon using HSLDA eLERTs was very powerful and affective. However, we did not want to bother HSLDA and their members too often with such requests. We also did not want to cry wolf more than was absolutely necessary. We were afraid that if we used it too often it would become too commonplace and the government would simply ignore it. Officials did not know what had hit them when they received hundreds of emails, from around the globe, complaining about their actions taken against a homeschooling family.

Donations Sent with Strings

In August of 2004, Chris Klicka called to tell us that Mike Smith was concerned with the IRS and did not want to continue to give us money on a regular basis. We had been receiving $5,000 on a monthly basis. This surprised us and Chris did not want to talk about the problem. Chris also emailed that the money HSLDA sent would now be with strings attached. Always before, the money was sent without comments in the remarks column of the electronic transfers. Receipts showing how the money was being spent were not asked for.

Looking back I can imagine that after 9/11 it was a bit more difficult to send money overseas and that the money especially after 9/11 needed to be more closely accounted for. HSLDA did not ask for any kind of receipt until nine months after they had begun to send it. Then they only asked for a statement that Schuzh had received the money that they had sent. In 2005, when HSLDA sent money they began to add in the remarks column of the transfers: “for German homeschool families”.

They were well aware that the money they sent was to remunerate the Smiths for their work. Later, when HSLDA’ Chris Klicka reached out to a German homeschool leader, wanting to give him and his organization money, Chris told him that the Smiths had selfishly taken money HSLDA had sent to German homeschoolers and spent it for their own personal needs.

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