”In the end, the safety of my family could no longer be guaranteed. The threats from Uppsala municipality were too many, too brutal, and every invitation to dialogue was turned down. The actions of the Uppsala local government could hardly be interpreted in any other way than as a hidden message of deportation”, says Jonas Himmelstrand, President of the Swedish Association for Home Education (ROHUS), regarding the silent move of his family from Sweden to the Aland Islands, Finland, in a form of political exile.
The Himmelstrands have had a conflict with Uppsala municipality about the right to home educate for three and a half years. The top Municipal Commissioner, Ms. Cecilia Forss of the Moderate Party, is politically responsible and claims to be well familiar with the case. From the start the lawyer for the municipality chose an extremely restrictive interpretation of the school law. After two years of struggle the Himmelstrands finally got a leave of appeal at the Kammarrätten, the Swedish mid-level court, where the verdict was still pending when the Himmelstrands left Sweden. Even with this leave of appeal, Uppsala municipality still directed a modern form of political persecution of the family which escalated in the months before the family left Sweden.
In November 2011 the principal of the school that was enrolling the Himmelstrand’s youngest home educated son reported the parents to the local social authorities. The report was filed the day after Jonas Himmelstrand debated home education on national radio with the chair of the Educational Committee of the Swedish Parliament, Margareta Pålsson of the Moderate Party. It is not known whether these events were connected or not. The reporting principal had never met Mr. Himmelstrand or his seven-year-old son. However, she did know that the Himmelstrand family were already homeschooling their 13 year old daughter and had now filed the application forms to home educate their son. The principal reported the parents to the social authorities stating in three sentences that she was concerned that the child was not in school. When directly questioned she said it was ”routine” to submit such a report. No higher official has yet responded as to the legal nature of this ”routine” report which appears to be calculated hostility towards the family.
Jonas Himmelstrand met with the social authorities without his son. The social worker was somewhat surprised at the minimal information the principal had provided and the fact that no meeting had taken place before the report was submitted. The social authorities decided not to do any further investigation of the family. In their report they concluded that this was a question for educational law and not a matter for the social authorities. The Himmelstrands were lucky. Not everyone called to the Swedish social authorities has been this lucky. Every Swedish home educator knows about Dominic Johansson who was taken into custody for home educating. Before leaving the social services office, Jonas Himmelstrand asked if the safety of the family could be guaranteed while home educating in Sweden. He was told that if he wanted to home educate safely he should to leave Sweden.
Just before Christmas the Children’s Board of the Uppsala municipality, led by Ms. Cecilia Forss, applied at court for a fine of $26,000 USD for home schooling one child, the Himmelstrand’s daughter, for the school year 2010-2011. According to ROHUS sources, this amount is nearly ten times higher than any homeschooling family has been assessed in recent years. ”It is hard to interpret this excessive amount in any other way than as a punishment for being President for ROHUS and for my international criticism of Swedish family policies”, says Jonas Himmelstrand.
During 2011 Jonas Himmelstrand presented a critical view of Swedish family policies, based on his own research, in nine cities in eight countries on two continents, including the UN in New York. This was done in the role of family research expert at the Swedish family association Haro, and as the founder of the Mireja Institute, a Swedish secular pro-family think-tank. Jonas Himmelstrand is also the chairman of the board of the world’s first global home education conference, scheduled to take place in Central Europe in November 2012.
After being informed about the $26,000 USD fine, Jonas Himmelstrand wrote a sharply worded letter to Ms. Cecilia Forss and asked if she felt it was reasonable to devastate the financial stability of a family for the sake of a controversial political principle. Mr. Himmelstrand also wrote that he perceived the threat to the family of a sum which they could never pay to be a form of hidden deportation. Ms. Cecilia Forss chose not to answer the letter directly. However, two weeks later a letter arrived with another decision from the Children's Board, again led by Ms. Cecilia Forss, asking the court for a new fine for the current school year of approximately $15,000 USD.
”It is not possible to live in a country where leading politicians are ready to financially ruin a family for the sake of ideology, and threaten families with the sometimes incompetent, but always powerful Swedish social authorities. Beyond that, they have refused every invitation to meet and discuss the situation. It is not healthy to live under such stress,” says Jonas Himmelstrand.
The Himmelstrand family quietly left Sweden in early February and are today living on the Aland Islands in Finland, where home education is allowed under Finnish law. ”It is an incredible relief, and only now are we starting to understand the degree of pressure we have lived under for many years”, says Jonas Himmelstrand. ”At the same time it is an almost surreal experience to be forced to leave Sweden for an issue which in most of the democratic world, and by the UN, is regarded as a human right.”
The Himmelstrands are not alone in leaving Sweden and living in exile due to their desire to home educate. During the last two years about a dozen families have left Sweden for the same reason. ”We have several Swedish home educating families as neighbors on the Aland Islands,” says Jonas Himmelstrand.
Even if half of the board members now live in exile in Denmark and on the Aland Islands in no way will this diminish the work of ROHUS. ”In fact, we will be more effective when we do not feel our families are under threat”, says Jonas Himmelstrand.
Home education is regarded by the UN as a valid form of education under the concept of ”the right of education”. Home education is permitted in most of the world’s democracies with the exception of Germany (under their school law of 1938) and now Sweden. The research on home education shows excellent student results both academically and socially. Removing the choice to home educate must therefore be seen as an infringement on a human right. Those who are punished for home education must be seen as politically persecuted, and those who are forced to emigrate as going into political exile.