A new law which would allow home education only under "extraordinary circumstances" is awaiting finishing touches before it is brought before the entire Swedish Parliament. Unfortunately, the new restrictive law is expected to pass. The Swedish Supreme Administrative Court has completed its obligatory review of the law and simply asked the Parliament to clarify the meaning of "extraordinary circumstances."
In just one year the climate for homeschooling has dramatically changed.
"Just two years ago my family and many others received the permission of local municipal school boards to homeschool," says Jonas Himmelstrand, president of the Swedish homeschoolers association which is called ROHUS. "The current law says that children may be educated away from school if the parents can show a viable alternative. Last year we won our court case at trial, but the appeals court sided with the government against our homeschooling. The school year was over before the school officials could bring another case. This year the authorities are being much more aggressive. Families are being fined and the new law would allow for the imposition of criminal sanctions."
The issue is becoming increasingly visible as the media in this small Scandinavian country report on the concerns of parents who simply wish to educate their own children at home.
Lisa Angerstig, an American MBA-holding mother of four who is married to a Swede, says she is greatly concerned about the situation.
"The authorities have acted very aggressively against my family," said Angerstig. "They have already fined us about $1,400, and they are seeking to enforce that fine even as we appeal their rejection of our homeschooling plan. Some of my children attend a local Christian school. But when my second son said he was bored and wanted to school at home, I agreed, since we had done this with our other children. He was one of the top students at the school, involved in many extracurricular activities and sports and always got the highest grades. Sweden is a beautiful country, and the people are very nice. But the government has become increasingly aggressive about education, trying to require that all children go to the state schools. For a country that prides itself on human rights, this type of aggressive behavior is quite shocking."
Himmelstrand agrees and talks of how the former president of ROHUS has left the country rather than face the court challenges.
"He did not wish to have to defend his family in court and face fines," Himmelstrand said. "So he has left the country. There are only 100 or so children homeschooled in Sweden. It appears that this is 100 too many for Swedish authorities. They are preparing to pass this new law to make it harder, and it appears that local school boards are already enforcing the new law even though it hasn't been passed through Parliament."
The Världen idag, a Swedish newspaper, reported that Laina Toughness, administrator at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL), spoke against homeschooling. "We want an inclusive school, and this is something that is perceived as exclusive," she says. She says that local authorities are unsure of how to assess the instruction, parents' skills, teaching content and children's access to a social network.
The paper also reported that Maria Kornevik Jakobsson, a member of Parliament, is supportive of homeschooling. "To believe that we can save children from bad parents by banning homeschooling does not work ... Most child abuse is, of course, at school, so it's a bad argument."
Michael Donnelly, director of International Relations for HSLDA, says the organization is preparing to help these families.
"We are privileged to support these brave parents as they fight for their right to homeschool and provide the best education for their children," Donnelly said. "It is important that we help Swedish homeschoolers so that the stereotypical view of homeschoolers can be stopped from spreading to other nations-including our own. Homeschooling is a valid and mainstream form of education that works well. Valid research demonstrates this, and countries like Sweden and Germany ought to be ashamed for denying parents their fundamental right to determine the best form of education for their children."
Himmelstrand has an upcoming trial but is trying to remain hopeful.
"We won at the trial court last year but lost in the appeals court," said Himmelstrand. "However, the way things have been going this year it isn't looking too hopeful. We are grateful for the support of American homeschoolers. Their financial and moral support is invaluable. There are so few of us over here-but it is encouraging to know that there is still a place like the United States where families' rights are protected from this kind of arbitrary power. If our problems here continue in the same degree, and if the new law goes through, it's just a matter of time before the first Swedish family seeks asylum in the U.S. I never thought I would start to consider Sweden a reluctant democracy. But now it seems so."