Czech principal sharing building with all-Romani school does all she can to avoid social contact with its pupils
The Czech School Inspection Authority is investigating the J.A. Komenský Primary School in Brno over some undignified measures that it has taken. The building of the school is undergoing reconstruction, so its management has had to agree to an offer made to it by a different primary school, ZŠ Merhautova, which owns two buildings, one on Merhautova Street and one on Vranovská Street.
It is the latter building that is especially notorious in Brno for the controversial quality of its instruction and for the fact that it is attended almost 100 % by Romani children. In that building, pupils from J.A. Komenský now occupy the top floor but, instead of being given the opportunity to meet the other schoolchildren in the building, a social chasm has opened up between them.
It is not just that children from each school practically never encounter each other in the building: The space between them is physically separated by a rope, and J.A. Komenský pupils prefer to commute for lunch to another facility, four tram stops away, rather than sit at a table together with their Romani schoolmates. Politicians do not like this situation and the Czech School Inspection Authority has recently visited the school.
The controversial measures taken by the principal of the J.A. Komenský School, Danuše Filipenská, are even stranger because until now the school has profiled itself as rather open - almost one-third of its children are also Romani, another 20 % are foreign nationals, and the school used to strive for an inclusive, modern approach. Denisa Sedláčková of the Brno-based organization IQ Roma servis, which has been implementing a campaign in Brno called "Dža andre lačhi škola“ ("Go to a good school") admitted to news server Romea.cz that until now the school has had a good reputation.
"The J.A. Komenský School represents a high-quality alternative for Romani families who want a solid education for their children," she told news server Romea.cz. It is exactly the quality of that education that allegedly was endangered by combining J.A. Komenský with the Merhautova Primary School.
The building on Vranovská Street (which was itself combined with the Merhautova Primary School back in 2004) has long had the reputation of a school where there are exceptionally low academic expectations and a minimal curriculum. However, it is also a "purely Romani" facility, unlike the part of the school that is in the building on Merhautova Street, and the segregation of Romani children at Vranovská Street has been sharply criticized by the Czech branch of Amnesty International.
It is, therefore, a question what kinds of concerns have led the principal of the J.A. Komenský School to install the rope and to prefer separate eating arrangements, even at the cost of travelling four tram stops away. Is this dispute just about quality of education?
Filipenská is said to also have refused the opportunity to use the computer lab and playground at the Vranovská Street facility. It is not clear whether using such spaces at more distant locations is related to the issue of quality of instruction - the entire situation seems to be about keeping as much distance as possible between the two schools and keeping the J.A. Komenský pupils away from the children at the host school who have been labeled "problematic".
The J.A. Komenský principal has even adjusted instruction times so that pupils from each school will not encounter each other in front of the building that they share and will now have to explain that decision to the Czech School Inspection Authority. "Naturally we are investigating this matter, and if it functions like that in practice, that is inadmissible and unacceptable, because our education system is based on the principles of equal access and non-discrimination," Deputy Director Andrýs of the Czech School Inspection Authority said.
The context of coexistence versus safety
Sedláčková of IQ Roma servis assumes there is a legitimate motivation for these measures, which at a minimum are symbolically very awkward, that the moves have been undertaken in the interest of safety, and that the principal is doing her best to just avoid situations in which it might be unclear who is liable should a child be involved in an accident or become injured. On the other hand, Sedláčková points out that the context of educating different kinds of children together is strongly influenced by parental attitudes.
"Most of the non-Romani parents are not bothered by a couple of Romani children in a class, but if there are more of them, they prefer to enroll their children elsewhere," she told news server Romea.cz. Romani parents, in her view, are frequently very concerned about discrimination and are afraid that in a "majority-society school" their children will be targeted for bullying.
That is why IQ Romas servis is implementing its campaign and doing its best to get both non-Romani and Romani parents to relax their prejudices against educating different kinds of children together. Sedláčková emphasizes that Romani parents are also interested in providing a quality education for their children, but that they tend to lack information and proper living conditions, which is a problem.
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