Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Family flees Germany for the sake of handicapped child

What an embarrassment to the German government! Because of their overzealous application of the compulsory schooling laws, another family is forced to flee to neighbouring Austria for asylum. Are the Hessen school authorities scared witless of some kind of parallel society of handicapped people being formed? I wonder how they can possibly justify the enforced school attendance of this little girl as being in the interests of society or even in her own best interests?

(BTW, I am not sure about she was to have started school this year - or the newspaper got her age wrong. Here it states that children are only schulpflichtig if they have completed their sixth year before June 30).

Austria's Chancellor offers personal help where the German democratic state has failed

Parents want to protect their daughter from enforced school attendance in Germany

Fleeing from the school

Her fifth birthday on June 28 was a big celebration for Madeleine's parents. In the little house in Bad Emstel in the German state of Hessen there were gifts and cake enough to make Madeleine's heart sing - or at least Corinna and Matthias Zeppich are convinced that their daughter was pleased. Madeleine is unable to express her feelings. She suffered severe brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation at birth, which consequently affected her motor function. In spite of her severe handicap, the five year old must start school in September. "We have already received a letter from the school: because Madeleine was born before June 30 2002, she has to start school in her sixth year", reports her father. "She wouldn't be able to endure the monotony of the school day," warns her paediatrician, Olaf Marzian. This has been confirmed by several other doctors.

Because the officials are insisting on compulsory school attendance, the family has no other choice but to flee to Austria, says Matthias Zeppich. Here, in particular, they have the option of home education instead of school attendance - something which is not infrequently practised in Austria. There are 300 home educated children just in Vienna. "We never ask for the reasons," says an employee of the Vienna Schools Inspectorate.

Chancellor intervenes

This alternative has only existed up to now in Germany in exceptional cases. "We have spoken with various German ministries and they have all told us that Madeline must attend school in Autumn in any event - even if she has to be brought in an ambulance," says Matthias Zeppich. In fact an employee of the responsible Hessen Education Ministry told a reporter from the Wiener Zeitung that handicapped children only start school at the age of seven - however Madeleine's father fears that it would just be delaying the inevitable - they would be dealing with the same issue all over again.

Because their father has his hands full looking after Madeleine and her little brother, Marvin, he does not want to become embroiled in a drawn-out legal battle with the authorities. Thus, the family asked for help in Austria - and received it, at the highest level. Austrian Chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, has personally ordered the Citizens' Service to support the Zeppichs in their new homeland.

Madeleine, who currently falls under the highest care level, will not be receiving the support of the German social welfare once the family has moved. The Austrian Republic must step in, where the social services of their neighbouring state are clearly malfunctioning.

Aside from the issue of compulsory school attendance, the Zeppichs have another reason for wanting to leave their home. "We were harassed by other people in the housing estate where we live", says Corinna Zeppich.

Harassment in their homeland

Because her handicap means that Madeline looks a bit strange, the neighbours have poked fun at her "angry expression". "They want to get us so riled up that we leave here." At the same time, Madeleine is a bright, happy child. "Only her motor function is limited and she can only make herself understood through her gestures," reports her father. She indicates hunger or thirst by sucking on her bottom lip. "She wasn't able to hold her own bottle and she can't sit upright without help."

It is possible that a highly complicated operation in a specialist clinic could improve Madeleine's condition somewhat. "Her weak lung wouldn't cope with it, though," her father fears. Thus, he tries, at least, to make his daughter's life a little more endurable. "We are constantly fearful that she won't survive one of her frequent bouts of pneumonia. "

A difficult move

Now Madeleine has to deal with the move to Austria, which itself has created another problem. "We need to find an affordable ground floor apartment, with space for all Madeleine's equipment," says her father. As it is, the little girl is continually dependent on an oxygen apparatus and needs a special board to support her stably, as she is unable to stand by herself, an enormous changing table and her hospital bed, which weighs 400kg. "There has been no lack of offers and the people here in Austria were all very nice to Madeleine when we viewed the apartments for the first time. Unfortunately all the properties we have seen so far have been way too expensive."

Apartment-hunting is currently the Zeppichs' biggest headache. According to Walter Wotzel from the Ministry for Social Services, who has been entrusted with Madeleine's case, "We will support the family in all social issues, but they have to attend to the apartment themselves."

1 comment:

Dana said...

Kudos to the Austrian government! Thank you for sharing the story, but I cannot imagine what the German government is thinking. Except that perhaps allowing one small exception is somehow going to open the floodgates of people who know the system does not fit everyone?