Another Czech school segregating Romani children this year
On 1 September the parents of some of the first-graders at the Antonín Sochor Primary School in the Czech town of Duchcov found an unpleasant surprise awaited them. The first grade class identified as "1A" includes all of the newly-enrolled Romani children, while class "1B" next door has been reserved exclusively for the children of local non-Roma.
One of the Romani mothers (who does not want to be identified but whose identity is known to Romea.cz) described the first day of school as follows: "We waited in the classroom until the end of the hour to see if some of the Czech children would also come there. When none of them came in and we realized that the Czechs are all in the same classroom, I proposed we all leave. The other parents, however, were more cautious. We began to argue with the head teacher, who of couse told us that this was a decision 'from above' and that there was nothing she could do about it. She pointed out that the classroom was nicely decorated and prepared, which was true, but our concern was that the children be able to learn together. Some of them had previously attended nursery school together with non-Romani children and did not understand why they were suddenly separated. Finally the head teacher asked that we leave her alone with the children for 10 minutes. We went out into the hallway, where the non-Romani parents were waiting for their children. Some of them openly laughed at us. I have never experienced a greater feeling of humiliation in my 45 years on this earth."
In 2014, the local organization of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) agreed to form a local coalition government with the right-wing extremist Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS) in Duchcov. Prior to that, the town had been a locale for inter-ethnic tensions that escalated into neo-Nazi marches several times.
Approximately 10 Romani parents have now turned to former social worker Štefan Horvát about what has happened to their children. It seems the school leadership is losing their trust as far as this issue is concerned.
"We have not met with the principal, she left the school grounds and was unavailable. She didn't even provide a brief statement until a television crew came," Horvát said.
"I understand her position: By all indications she has succumbed to long-term pressure from the parents' association, which is striving for their [i.e., non-Romani] children to attend their own separate class. I am convinced that if she had presented this to the Romani parents and told them that a solution would be sought, they would have 'accepted' it. This way, however, she is just avoiding taking responsibility," Horvát went on to say.
Principal Ivana Kulhavá is resolutely denying there is a problem: "There are no segregated classes at our school, that's a lie. I am glad something like that has never happened at our school, that's all I can say about it. We ourselves are from the southern part of Duchcov, which speaks for itself [the southern part of the local housing estate is where Romani families are predominantly concentrated]. Moreover, everyone here has listed their nationality as Czech."
When asked whether in previous years she had ever registered any initiatives from parents demanding that non-Romani children be separated from Romani ones, she answered: "Never. Not for either group. I would bet my life on it."
Mr Horvát's sister Kristýna, whose daughter is currently a pupil in second grade at the school, claims to have noticed these same tendencies toward ethnic segregation a year ago. "Some mothers just made a deal with the head teacher. Their children were moved into the next classroom," she said, and Mr Horvát added: "Last year the problem was not so marked because there were only three Romani children. They could not be put into their own special class because there were so few of them. This year there are around 15 Romani first-graders, it's a larger cohort."
When asked how it was possible that their statements directly contradict the claims of the principal that such a problem does not exist, Horvát answered that he did not understand how it was possible to deny something that can be so easily proven. "There is photodocumentation and video footage of these classes. I was sitting there myself," he clarified.
"The official reason for the segregation was even stated by the head teacher, who said the children were divided between the classes on the basis of how they did during registration. We were amazed at how it could be possible that all of the Romani children would have performed equally poorly and all of the non-Romani children would have excelled. There is a terrible atmosphere here, in all of Duchcov," Horvát described.
"People with such problems have no one to turn to, the social services department sends them 'elsewhere' and there is no Romani advisor here. Exasperated people, both non-Roma and Roma, are lashing out at me on the street over this," said Horvát.
"They were already segregated during enrollment," claims another person who has worked in the locality for many years and who also does not wish to be named. "The children were asked to do tasks in separate classrooms and were separated by skin color at that point."
The segregation of children in primary schools is not a matter of a few isolated incidents in the Czech Republic - Romea.cz published an article just two days ago about a similar case in the town of Krásná Lípa. If you have had a similar experience, please contact our editors.
Besides the Antonín Sochor Primary School there is another one, the J. Pešata Primary School, which of course serves the catchment area for children from the so-called northern part of Duchcov, which is a town where the spatial distribution of housing and resources correlates to residents' ethnicity. The town hall is asserting that the numbers of children attending each primary school are equal.
News server Romea.cz attempted to telephone the Mayor of Duchcov, Mgr. Zbyněk Šimbera, for comment, but no one answered the telephone in his office all day. "At this moment, the situation is such that the parents of these pupils have turned to the media and have asked me to reach out to the relevant authorities, which I have done. What will be confirmed about this and what won't be confirmed lies in the stars, but given my experience, I am skeptical," said Horváth.
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