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April 28, 2017
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Czech mayor rejects ombudsperson's proposal on how to end discrimination of Romani children in local school

28.6.2016 19:19
Anna Šabatová on the program
Anna Šabatová on the program "Questions with Václav Moravec"", 23 February 2014 (Photo: Czech Television)

The Czech Public Defender of Rights (ombudsperson), Anna Šabatová, considers discriminatory the approach taken by Ivana Preyová, the principal of the primary school in the town of Krásná Lípa who divided up first-graders at the beginning of this school year to create a classroom comprised solely of Romani children. Šabatová has recommended the establisher of the school take several steps to prevent discrimination this fall and minimize the risk of anti-discrimination lawsuits being filed against them.

Those are the results of a letter to the local authority from the ombudsperson that the town has now published on its website. The primary school became a target of criticism at the start of the 2015/2016 school year, when the Romani parents of first-graders complaind that the school was discriminating against their children by assigning them all into the same classroom based on their origin.

The Czech School Inspectorate (Česká školní inspekce - ČŠI) investigated and found that the dissatisfied parents were correct. The school has now also been investigated by the ombudsperson and her conclusions are similar.

"I consider the approach taken by the principal, who divided up the children at the beginning of the 2015/2016 school year into the three classes described, to be discriminatory," her letter reads. Šabatová visited the town on 31 May and met with local representatives for two hours on the issue.

"At our meeting you mentioned that the criterion for separating the children into the classes was supposed to have been the results of the so-called test of school maturity performed during their enrollment last year. As a consequence, that approach led to the classes being assigned almost exclusively according to the pupils' ethinic origins. The Anti-Discrimination Act calls such a state of affairs indirect discrimination, which is when a certain approach can cause a discriminatory situation irrespective of the intentions of those involved," the ombudsperson's letter reads.

Preyová changed the educator assigned to teaching the so-called "Romani" class after the ČŠI criticized the instruction given in that particular class as poor quality. The Romani parents, however, continue to complain that the instruction remains of bad quality even with the new teacher and that their children continued to be stigmatized at the school, according to the ombudsperson's letter.

Šabatová's letter proposes several steps to Jiří Kolář, the Mayor of Krásná Lípa, which established the primary school, that would ensure discrimination does not recur there this fall. "Although I do appreciate the series of activities under your control that aim to improve local Romani residents' quality of life, I insist on the necessity of changing the situation, in cooperation with the principal, no later than the beginning of the next school year. Refraining from discrimination can minimize the risk of somebody bringing an anti-discrimination court action in this matter," her letter states.

One of her proposals, for example, is that during the second grade, beginning 1 September 2016, six or seven children from the originally all-Romani first grade class could be educated in each second-grade class, including the school's "alternative" class. She also proposed improving communications between parents and the school.

The town should also, together with the school, identify a mediator to communicate both with parents from the "majority" society and with Romani parents. Prior to the beginning of the next school year, the ombudsperson believes that summertime tutoring should be introduced for the Romani first-graders who have been separately educated.

The ombudsperson also proposes that the town collaborate more closely with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. Mayor Kolář's reaction has been to tell Czech Radio:  "That letter essentially threatens to sue us."

"Many of her recommendations are unrealistic. We explained to Madame Ombudsperson for three hours what the reality is here. However, it seems we did so in vain. We will send information to the parents to see whether there will be interest in tutoring. Last week there was a meeting for parents from that class where the school year was assessed. The parents of only three children showed up," the mayor told the local daily paper.

According to Kolář, the Romani parents were offered the opportunity to enroll their first-graders in the school's "alternative class" free of charge, but allegedly they were not interested. Šabatová mentions in her letter that some of the Romani parents remain convinced that they would have to pay a fee to enroll their children there.

The town says it is not against collaborating with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion and asking it to help them raise money. The mayor claims the town cannot afford to pay either for a coordinator at the school or for tutoring from its current budget.

The town now has 15 days in which to officially respond to the ombudsperson. She will then decide what further action to take. 

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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