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Czech media - and some mayors - scaring the public over Romani children in nursery schools

Prague, 28.10.2011 0:21, (ROMEA)

There is great confusion and misinterpretation underway in the Czech press regarding the measures to support nursery school attendance anticipated by the Czech Government Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion 2011 – 2015. The measures are meant to boost the nursery school attendance of children from socially excluded localities. The state will require a certain number of places be allocated to them, pay the costs associated with their attendance, and link their attendance to their parents' welfare benefits.

Many media outlets and even mayors are interpreting this to mean that all Romani people will automatically attend nursery school for free, since the often reside in socially excluded localities. The proposal, however, counts on evaluating every socially deprived family individually.

"Nowhere does it say that all children from socially excluded localities will get free nursery school. Child protection services will decide who gets to attend for free and who doesn't," Martin Šimáček, the head of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities, which designed the document, told news server iDNES.cz.

Some mayors are concerned that in the currently exacerbated atmosphere, such a step might only damage relations between the majority society and Romani people. "This is the right approach, but the way it is being executed is unfortunate. It isn't the best idea for only certain children to get nursery school completely for free. That approach is why people in the Šluknov district are demonstrating," Martin Louka, the Mayor of Varnsdorf, told iDNES.cz .

Šimáček, however, doesn't see anything wrong with some children paying for nursery school and others not. "This is a standard principle of solidarity that has its place in society, particularly at a time when it behooves the rich to help prevent phenomena that could burden them in future," he said.

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková says it is essential that these measures be well-clarified and explained so people understand they are for everyone's benefit. "As a result, [these proposals] can provide the state budget with a long-term savings of several billion crowns annually, money the state today is spending to address the problems caused by social exclusion, such as those occurring now in Šluknov district," she told the daily Právo.

The problem which has incurred these measures and with which several towns are already struggling is a lack of places at nursery schools. The number of such places will logically be reduced after the introduction of "obligatory" nursery school attendance for those children who have not been attending until now.

"I envy the legislators their optimism that there are enough places at nursery schools. Towns and villages do not have the resources to pay for everything. I am crossing my fingers for the Education Ministry that these ideas can be implemented, but I am personally very skeptical," Vlastimil Vozka, the Mayor of Most, told iDNES.cz.

Šimáček says the increased costs will be covered to a significant extent by an Education Ministry subsidy program. "All of the ministries, by government decree, are obliged to ensure funding for these measures, and all of the ministries agreed to restructure their budgets to do so," he said. However, he admits these measures will be a burden for the nursery schools and the towns. "Each town, as well as the nursery school directors, should think through their capacity well in advance to make sure they have room for those who will be obligated to attend. That means there have to be many more places available at nursery schools," Šimáček said.

Gwendolyn Albert, jr, iDNES.cz, EuroZprávy.cz, Strategie boje proti sociálnímu vyloučení na období 2011 - 2015, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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