Czech and international nonprofits protest amendment to decree on education
Both Czech and international nonprofit organizations are protesting against an amendment to a decree about the education of children together in the schools that has been proposed by the Czech Education Ministry. According to the organizations, not only do the changes contravene the Czech Republic's obligation to gradually introduce an inclusive education system and to thereby implement the right of each and every child to an inclusive education, they contravene the country's obligation to prevent discrimination against Romani children in their access to education.
"While it is apparent that the transition from a segregated (two-stream) education system cannot be implemented from one day to the next, steps that do not lead to the gradual elimination of a separate special education system violate this international obligation and the right of pupils to inclusive education. We are of the opinion that the amendment to the decree, as prepared, is exactly a step in the wrong direction," reads the letter sent to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and to the leadership of the Education Ministry by 28 nonprofit organizations.
According to the organizations, the Czech Republic has already adopted several measures that can be assessed positively. Among them are, for example, the Romani Integration Strategy to the Year 2020, which in the area of education specifically mentions, at aim 5.2., the elimination of the practice of incorrectly recommending Romani children for enrollment into educational arrangements where the educational ambitions are below average.
"The proposed amendment to the decree directly contravenes these efforts and the measures adopted to date. The suspicion arises, therefore, that the aim of this newly-proposed amendment is just to make it possible, once again, for children without mental disability to be educated in the former 'practical schools' - for example, children with behavioral or learning disorders - among other reasons because the number of pupils enrolling into such schools is declining," the letter reads.
The organizations close by expressing their hope that the ministry will reassess its attitude toward the Czech Republic's international human rights obligations and will head in the direction of introducing an inclusive education system in a way that will be consistent, gradual, and transparent, as the ministry has promised. "The proposed wording for this decree would, in that respect, represent a disturbing step backward," the organizations state in their letter, which news server Romea.cz is publishing in full translation below.
Open Letter on the Proposal to Amend Decree No. 27/2016 Coll., on the education of children, pupils and students with special educational needs
Prague, 6 December 2018
Esteemed Prime Minister Ing. Andrej Babiš, Esteemed Education Minister Ing. Robert Plaga, Ph.D., Esteemed Deputy Minister Mgr. et Mgr. Dana Prudíková, Ph.D., Esteemed Deputy Minister Mgr. Václav Pícl:
We are turning to you in our role as domestic and international non-governmental non-profit organizations active, among other matters, in the area of support for inclusive education. We are disturbed by the information about the planned amendment to Decree No. 27/2016 on the education of children, pupils and students with special educational needs (hereinafter the “Decree”).
The proposed wording of this Decree counts on several changes that not only contravene the obligations of the Czech Republic to gradually introduce an inclusive education system and to thereby implement the right of each child to an inclusive education, but also contravene the obligation to prevent the discrimination of Romani children in their access to education.
We remind you that according to Article 24 paragraph 2 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (hereinafter the “Convention”) all pupils have the right to access an inclusive, high-quality education free of charge in the place where they live and also to not be excluded from the mainstream education system on the basis of their disability.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons Living with Disabilities (hereinafter the “Committee”), which provides UN member states with an authoritative interpretation of that Convention, expressly states in its General Comment No. 4 of 2016 (UN document CRPD/C/GC/4) that this obligation is incompatible with maintaining two distinct education systems – a mainstream system and a special needs system (Section 39). The Committee also stresses that the UN Convention bans the exclusion of pupils with disabilities from mainstream education systems where such exclusion is to be conditioned by recommending them for enrollment according to their educational ability, i.e., by conditioning their inclusion “to the extent of the potential of the individual"(CRPD/C/GC/4 Section 18).
While it is apparent that the transition from a segregated (two-stream) education system cannot be implemented from one day to the next, steps that do not lead to the gradual elimination of a separate special education system contravene this international obligation and the right of pupils to inclusive education. We are of the opinion that the amendment to the decree that has been prepared is exactly a step in the wrong direction.
We are especially disturbed by the proposed wording of Section 19 of the Decree, through which the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (hereinafter the “Ministry”) does the following:
a) Eliminates, once again, the clear declaration that it is preferred that children be educated in the mainstream education system as compared to the special system (Section 19 paragraph 1);
b) Facilitates, once again, the exclusion of children, pupils and students with disabilities solely on the basis of their disability, not on the basis of the special needs that may arise from a certain type of disability (Section 19 paragraph 2);
c) Introduces, once again, the opportunity for pupils without mental disability to be educated in schools for pupils with mental disability (Section 19 paragraph 4).
The state is obliged because of its international obligations to gradually take steps to eliminate the special education system. The amending of regulations about education, therefore, must serve that aim. Gradual steps can especially be understood to mean clarifying the legislation so that education in the segregated (special) system is made possible for a continually more narrow spectrum of pupils (such that their proportion in that system will therefore decline), and also to mean that more support should be directed toward the mainstream education system. The aim is for the accessibility of the mainstream education system and the support provided within it to be at least comparable, for all pupils, to the support provided in the special system.
In this respect, the original formulation of Section 19 paragraph 1 of the Decree is a very important declaration that the Ministry intends to respect and support these basic obligations and this direction. For that reason, we disagree with the Ministry’s opinion that such a declaration is, with respect to the existence of similar rules in the Education Act (Act No. 561/2004 Coll., on pre-school, primary, secondary, higher technical and other education), superfluous. Since the Ministry is declaring that the motivation for this change is the negative reaction from the public to the obligation to primarily educate all pupils in mainstream schools, it is necessary to point out the Ministry’s obligation to inform the public about the advantages of inclusive education, not to inconsistently “obfuscate” about its actual support for inclusive education.
Another crucial, problematic point of the proposed wording is also the repeated elimination of the opportunity for children, pupils and students living with disabilities and only such pupils to be educated in schools that are specifically established as specialized in support for pupils with a certain kind of disability. The reason for this new provision is, according to the Ministry, a problem with the accessibility of such specialized schools, for example, in areas with low population density, and probably also a problem with the low intake rates of the special schools where just some pupils with disabilities can be educated. The solution to the unavailability of needs-oriented education for pupils with disabilities, however, is to implement inclusive education and to arrange sufficient support in the local, mainstream primary schools, not to repeatedly expand opportunities for placing pupils into special schools. It is not at all apparent how separate special schools focused on the education of pupils with a broad range of disabilities would even be able to provide high-quality, specialized support to such pupils. Each pupil with a disability has his or her highly individualized educational needs, which are not just different for every pupil within the framework of a certain type of disability, but are absolutely incongruous to the needs of pupils with a different kind of disability altogether. It is apparent, therefore, that the only motivation for this step is to exclude pupils with disabilities from the mainstream education system. This step is obviously a segregating one and has nothing in common with an effort to arrange accessible, high-quality education for pupils with special educational needs.
In this context it is also necessary to recall that the expansion of opportunities to enroll pupils without mental disability into schools for pupils with mental disability is closely associated with the education of Romani pupils who, in the Czech education system, historically have faced systemic discrimination and segregation that has manifested itself and is manifesting itself especially in the significantly disproportionate representation of these pupils in specialized schools and especially in the so-called “practical schools” (the school education plans for which are established to follow the Framework Education Plan with Appendix for Mild Mental Disability). It is exactly this disproportionate representation of Romani pupils in schools for pupils with mental disability that was found discriminatory by the European Court of Human Rights in the year 2007 (D. H. and Others vs. the Czech Republic, Grand Chamber Judgement of 13 November 2007, No.. 57325/00) and again in the year 2014 by the European Commission which, for that same reason, began its infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic as an EU Member State.
In response to both of these events, the Czech Republic has adopted several measures that can be assessed positively. These include, for example, the Romani Integration Strategy to 2020, which in the area of education, under aim 5.2, specifically mentions the elimination of the practice of incorrectly recommending Romani children for enrollment into educational arrangements with lower educational ambitions. The proposed amendment to the Decree directly contravenes these efforts and already-adopted measures. It raises the suspicion, therefore, that the aim of this newly proposed amendment is merely to facilitate the education of children without mental disability – for example, children with behavioral and learning disorders – in the former “practical schools”, among other reasons because the number of pupils enrolling into such schools is declining.
The only solution to the challenges as formulated by the Ministry is to expand support into the mainstream primary schools to the greatest possible extent so that the education system provides a genuinely high-quality education aimed at the needs of individuals. The minimum within the framework of this effort is arrange for the support provided to the mainstream primary schools to be at least comparable to the support provided in the special needs schools so that parents will not be subjected to the dilemma of choosing between a “quality education” and education in a mainstream primary school. However, this effort is also resisted by the Ministry in its proposed wording for Section 17 of the Decree, according to which the maximum number of education staffers per class in mainstream schools would be just two. The Ministry is declaring that this limitation will not apply to classes in special needs schools where, on the contrary, in the interest of significantly enhancing the quality of the education provided, the presence of two education staffers is automatically counted on. Improving the quality of education in special schools to the detriment of the mainstream schools contravenes the above-described obligations flowing from the right to an inclusive education.
Esteemed Prime Minister, Esteemed Minister, Esteemed Deputy Ministers, we believe the Ministry will reassess its attitude toward the international obligations of the Czech Republic and will head in the direction of a consistent, gradual and transparent introduction of an inclusive education system as it has promised. The proposed wording of the Decree would, in this respect, represent a disturbing step backward.
Maroš Matiaško, Fórum pro lidská práva, Chair, U Klavírky 1351/8, Praha 150 00, firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven Allen Validity, Director, Impact Hub, Ferenciek Tere 2 Budapest, Hungary, email@example.com
Dorde Jovanović, European Roma Rights Centre, President, Kéthly Anna Tér 1 Greenopoint 7 H-1077 Budapest, Hungary, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková, Česká odborná společnost pro inkluzivní vzdělávání, Chair, Krásný život 286 Stará Huť 262 02, email@example.com
Pavla Baxová Rytmus, Director, Londýnská 81, 120 00 Praha 2, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michal Miko, RomanoNet, z. s., Director, Rybná 716/24, Staré Město, 110 00 Praha, email@example.com
Nikola Taragoš, Romodrom, o. p. s., Program Director, Rybná 716/24,Staré Město, 110 00 Praha 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jelena Silajdžić, Slovo 21, z. s., Director, Štěpánská 1, 120 00 Praha 2, email@example.com
Petr Máčal, IQ Roma servis, z. s., Director, Vranovská 846/45, 614 00 Brno-sever, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sri Kumar Vishwanathan, Vzájemné soužití, o. p. s., Director, Bieblova 404/8, 702 00 Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz, email@example.com
Marta Smolíková, Otevřená společnost, o. p. s., Director Uruguayská 178/5, 120 00 Praha, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Tišer, Ara Art, z. s., Director Sázavská 16, 120 00 Praha 2, email@example.com
Zdeněk Ryšavý, Romea, o. p. s., Director, Korunní 2206/127, 130 00 Praha 3, firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin Cichý, Romano Jasnica, z. s., Director, Gogolova 29/2, 400 04 Trmice, email@example.com
Petra Szaffnerová Bímonová, Kleja, z. s., Director, Varšavská 38, 400 03 Ústí nad Labem, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Miroslav Zima Drom, romské středisko – Brno, Director, Hvězdová 906/9, 602 00 Brno, email@example.com
Miroslav Klempár, Awen Amenca, z. s., Director, Jílová 394/7, Moravská Ostrava, 702 00 Ostrava, firstname.lastname@example.org
Žaneta Mirgová, Asociace romských rodičů, z. s., Director, Jílová 394/7, Moravská Ostrava, 702 00 Ostrava, email@example.com
Martina Horváthová, Klub Barvaľipen, z. s., chair, Rokycanova 2581, Pardubice 53002, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emil Voráč, Khamoro, o. p. s., Director Tovární 223, Chodov, 357 35, email@example.com
Helena Balabánová, Společně-Jekhetane, o. p. s., Director, U Tiskárny 515/3, 702 00 Ostrava-Přívoz, firstname.lastname@example.org
Štefan Grinvalský, Beleza, z. s., Director, Skautská 34, 708 00 Ostrava-Poruba, email@example.com
Šárka Souchopová, platforma NADĚJE PRO AUTISMUS, Project Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Milena Němcová, platforma NADĚJE PRO AUTISMUS, Coordinator, email@example.com
Marta Pečeňová, Za sklem o. s., chair, Pardubská 293, 763 12 Vizovice, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucie Rybová, Český helsinský výbor, z.s., Director, Štefánikova 21, 150 00 Praha 5, email@example.com
Monika Šimúnková, former Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Petrucha Liga lidských práv, leader, Burešova 6, 602 00 Brno, email@example.com
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