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Czech nonprofits and parents sign open letter rejecting law's definition of mental disability

Prague, 10.2.2015 20:53, (ROMEA)
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, chair of the Czech Social Democratic Party (PHOTO: ČSSD)
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, chair of the Czech Social Democratic Party (PHOTO: ČSSD)

Representatives of nonprofit organizations and members of the informal Parents for Inclusion (Rodiče za inkluzi) alliance sent an open letter on Friday, 6 February to Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka about an amendment to the Schools Act that is currently undergoing approval. The amendment is supposed to improve the education of children with special educational needs, but according to the letter, it also includes a dubious definition of mental disability that increases the risk that children now educated in mainstream schools might be reassigned to the "practical schools" for children with "mild mental disability" in future.

The signatories to the letter express their support for the general direction of the amendment, which is based on principles of inclusive education, but disagree with Section 16a paragraph 5, which they say broadens the category of mental disability. The paragraph requires the assessment of a child's mental disability to be based on an evaluation of his or her adaptive and cognitive capabilities in the context of his or her development with a view to the child's cultural and social milieu.

In practice, this could mean that even if a child's cognitive capabilities are evaluated as sufficient, the child could still be diagnosed as mentally disabled should he or she have poor adaptive characteristics or come from an uninspiring social environment. Even though the signatories of the letter do believe a pupil's context must be taken into account, they believe this should only happen so that newly-introduced support measures can be established for the pupil, not as part of assessing mental disability.

The dubious provision fundamentally contravenes the inclusive spirit of the rest of the amendment. The Public Defender of Rights has also recommended deleting Section 16a paragraph 5 and not substituting any other provision for it.

"The Czech Republic is, within the framework of the European Union, the country with the third-highest proportion of children educated outside of mainstream education and the country with the highest proportion of children whose enrollment into first grade is delayed. In most developed countries the principle of distributing children into separate educational tracks is nowhere near as entrenched as it is in our country," says Robert Basch of Open Society Fund Prague, which has long supported inclusive education.  

"The Czech Republic is being repeatedly criticized by international organizations for poorly educating disadvantaged pupils. However, if this dubious provision were to be removed, we have a chance at seeing a law pass that can help ensure the highest-quality education for all children," Basch said.

The newly-created Parents for Inclusion alliance has signed the open letter to Czech PM Sobotka, initiated by Open Society Fund Prague, along with many other experts on inclusive education and nonprofit organizations. The alliance brings together the parents of children who require a non-standard approach to their education, whether because of medical disability or their families' social disadvantage.

press release of Nadace Open Society Fund Praha, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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