Czech NGO says legal provision could lead to overuse of the concept of "mild mental disability"
Tomorrow, 11 February, the Czech Chamber of Deputies will undertake a third reading of an amendment to the Schools Act. If adopted, the amendment would introduce a system of support measures for pupils with special educational needs, a system that has been given a consistently positive reception by experts across the board.
However, Section 16a paragraph 5 of the amendment remains problematic, as it expands the category of mental disability. "We are convinced that this provision should be removed from the law," says Tomáš Habart of the Varianty education program of the People In Need organization (Člověk v tísni).
The problematic paragraph reads: "Should the assistance of a school counseling facility depend on an evaluation of the state of health of the child, pupil or student, the school counseling facility shall comply with the requirement that the documents for the outcomes of the counseling assistance are provided in accordance with the principles of medical science. The evaluation of a child’s or pupil’s mental disability, for the purposes of this law, shall always be based on an evaluation of the adaptive and intellectual capabilities of the child or pupil in the context of his or her development and his or her cultural and social environment."
There is still no consensus on an unequivocal interpretation of this provision. "We appreciate that the amendment as a whole is heading in the direction of individualized support for children. This provision, however, heads in the opposite direction. As a result, if it is adopted, many children could be incorrectly labeled as mentally disabled, and pupils who should be educated in mainstream education could be enrolled into the practical primary schools. The connection between a pupil's development and his or her culture and social environment should be taken into consideration when establishing individual support for a pupil, not when evaluating his or her mental disability. The counseling facilities should focus their attention on establishing support measures, not on defining categories of mental disability," says Habart.
Concerns that the law's provisions could be abused to children's detriment are prompted by the currently declining statistics on children with mental disability, which testify to the fact that in previous years, the category of mental disability has been overused. Data from the Czech Mnistry of Education, Youth and Sport show that during the past five years, the proportion of children diagnosed with "mild mental disability" has declined, from 2.96 % of all children graduating from their mandatory school attendance to 1.84 %.
At the same time, there are to this day significant differences in the numbers of children given this diagnosis from region to region, which testifies to the fact that mental disability is being inconsistently diagnosed in the Czech Republic. Given this situation, further liberalization of the rules for assessing mental disability would be highly risky.
The problematic provision of the amendment to the Schools Act would, moreover, require more financial investment for the implementation of diagnostic tools to measure, for example, the "adaptive capabilities" of children, tools which currently do not exist in the Czech Republic. Moreover, the Czech psychiatric community has unequivocally rejected the use of the American DSM 5 psychiatric manual for such purposes, as the proposers of the amendment argue should be the case.
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