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Czech Republic: NGO disagrees with court that principal discriminated against Romani preschoolers

11.3.2017 10:45
Kumar Vishwanathan (FOTO: Daniela Kantorová)
Kumar Vishwanathan (FOTO: Daniela Kantorová)

The Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) organization has issued a statement of support for the principal of the Pěší Primary School in Ostrava-Muglinova which, according to a judgment by the District Court in Ostrava, discriminated against two Romani preschoolers when it refused to enroll them into first grade in 2014. The organization disagrees with the court that principal Kamil Krahula behaved in a discriminatory fashion when making that decision.

Simona Jirásková, assistant to Kumar Vishwanathan, the director of Life Together, informed news server Romea.cz of the organization's opinion on 8 March. Life Together believes that the rejection of the children was a "procedural error made at a time when non-Romani and Romani parents have big expectations of a quality education for their children, when there are not enough places for all children, and when there is an absence of state-established guidelines or instructions on how to proceed."

The organization also distances itself from the steps subsequently taken that led to the matter being heard in court. "All of the steps then taken after the decision not to accept these two children (calling for a revocation of the decision, filing a lawsuit in court, etc.) were not initiated by our organization. That was the initiative of the legal representatives of those two children and a person who was employed by our organization at the time, but who no longer is our employee today, together with other activists," the organization says in a statement that news server Romea.cz. publishes in full translation here.

Standpoint of the Life Together (Vzájemné soužití o.p.s.) on the case of the Pěší Primary School

Vzájemné soužití o.p.s. is an organization that has long been involved with Romani social equality, among other matters. In 2014, as part of a project supported by the Open Society Foundations, we monitored the enrollments of Romani children into the first grade classes at primary schools here.

We prepared Romani children and their parents for those enrollments and accompanied them to seven primary schools in Ostrava with the awareness and consent of the school principals. While a certain non-standard approach was taken at the Pěší Primary School during the enrollment of children into first grade, our organization always does its best in such cases to address such instances in the interests of the children, who have a right to access a quality education irrespective of their origins or social status, and to do so by involving all the actors in addressing the situation instead of escalating the situation and rejecting efforts at correction or dialogue.

We greatly regret that the two children whose parents have sued were not enrolled into first grade at the Pěší Primary School immediately, but we did not find the principal's behavior to be discrimination, given the internal information we had at the time, which was as follows:

1. More than 30 % of the children enrolled into first grade at the school that year were of Romani origin.

2. We were able to imagine the big pressure that the principal was under, from both non-Romani and Romani parents, to preserve the high quality of education at the school through a balanced ratio of non-Romani and Romani children so the school could meet the specific educational needs of the children in a high-quality way.

3. Even though we disagree with the method chosen by the principal for choosing which children to enroll - tests of school readiness as the criterion - we comprehend that he did not have any binding methodological instructions from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (or from any other institutions) on which to rely for how to proceed when there is greater demand among children from a school's catchment area than there is capacity at a given school (increasing the capacity of any school is not within the competence of its principal). After the children's legal representatives appealed to the Regional Authority, the principal did his best to correct his behavior and offered to enroll the children.

4. Other Romani children were already attending the school during those enrollments. Romani children have long attended that school, which is considered a high-quality one by the Romani community - Romani parents whose children attend it consider it high-quality.

For those reasons, we considered the behavior of the principal to be a procedural error made at a time when non-Romani and Romani parents have big expectations of a quality education for their children, when there are not enough places for all children, and when there is an absence of state-established guidelines or instructions on how to proceed. We did not find the approach embodied by the principal's behavior to be discriminatory.

All of the subsequent steps taken after the decision not to accept these two children (calling for a revocation of the decision, filing a lawsuit in court, etc.) were not initiated by our organization. They were the initiative of the legal representatives of those two children and of a person who was employed by our organization at the time, but who no longer is our employee today, together with other activists.

Nobody is attempting to point to the basic problem that is in need of solution here. Such situations will happen more and more frequently, and this court judgment does not address the main problem in and of itself.

The problem is that there are no criteria established for ascertaining whether a school is a high-quality school. There is no way for parents to know what the educational chances are for their children once they graduate from a particular school.

It is not possible for parents to find out what secondary schools or institutions of higher learning the graduates of a particular primary school then go on to attend. All parents, though, want their children enrolled into a high-quality education.

A "Romani school" is never considered a high-quality school. It is never even considered one by Romani parents.

The European Court of Human Rights ruling in the case of D.H. vs Czech Republic, which involved children from Ostrava, established that it is illegal to separate children with similar educational needs into a segregated environment. That judgment requires schools to accept children who are different into inclusive environments, but it never established any guidelines or ratio that might make it possible to consider a school inclusive and non-segregated.

With Romani parents' requirements for a high-quality education in an inclusive environment - an education among children from the majority society - increasing, and with demographic trends what they are, the question of what the correct ratio is between an inclusive and a segregated environment begins to take on added weight. The prinicipals of more schools in the country may encounter that question when attempting to make sure their schools do not become "Romani" schools.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Diskriminace, Kumar Vishwanathan, Ostrava, Soud



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