Czech town rejects ombudsperson's critique, says it did not discriminate against and segregate Romani pupils
The Czech town of Krásná Lípa is rejecting criticism from the ombudsperson over the way a "Romani" class has been established at the local primary school. The Public Defender of Rights (ombudsperson) visited the town at the end of May and recommended the local administration take several steps to prevent discrimination in future and reduce the risk that anti-discrimination lawsuits might be filed against it.
Everything began at the beginning of the 2015/2016 school year, when the Romani parents of first-graders complained they were being discriminated against because the principal, Ivana Preyová, had assigned all of their children into a single class on the basis of their ethnic origin. The parents turned to the Czech School Inspection Authority, which confirmed their suspicions and reported, among other matters, that the instruction in the "Romani" first grade class was substandard.
After that report was released the school changed the educator providing instruction to the Romani children, but their parents' complaints persist. Public Defender of Rights Anna Šabatová then followed up on the case.
In mid-July the local administration published its response to Šabatová's complaints on its website. "Our behavior was not discriminatory and did not lead to segregation of the Romani pupils. The division of the children into the classes was undertaken based on whether they had previously attended our preschool. We are of the opinion that this was done in a legitimate, logical and absolutely natural way in accordance with the applicable legislation," the town said.
Among the recommendations made by the Public Defender of Rights are improving communications with pupils' parents, choosing a mediator for communications with both "majority-society" and Romani parents, setting up summertime tutoring, establishing collaboration with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, and including at least six or seven Romani pupils in each of the second grade classes as of 1 September this year. Representatives of the town allege in their letter to the ombudsperson that the 2015/2016 first grade cohort included six children with special educational needs who "failed" in terms of learning and with whom behavioral problems were constantly being addressed.
The special educator did not recommend those children attend tutoring during the summer holidays, alleging that it would not have been good from the perspective of the children's mental health. The ombudsperson had also proposed reorganizing the first-grade classes, including the class offering "alternative" instruction, but the town said that was allegedly not possible to arrange due to a lack of staff.
The school has also pointed out that some "majority-society" children have now enrolled in other schools elsewhere because their parents do not agree they should be educated together with "socially excluded" children. The town also published a letter from one of those mothers as part of its response to the Public Defender of Rights.
"The rights of my children to receive a quality education in the place where they live will be limited," wrote Jana Votápková, the mother of a "majority-society" child, in a letter addressed to the ombudsperson. According to Votápková, the classes were organized separately in an attempt to aid the disadvantaged children with overcoming the "deficiencies" that such children frequently bring to school with them from their Romani family environment.
Votápková wrote that including Romani children in the school's "alternative" first-grade class seemed "forced" to her, "for both sides". The mayor, meanwhile, writes that he is of the opinion that an anti-discrimination lawsuit would not benefit the calm atmosphere they have been doing their best to maintain locally for some time.
According to the local administration, Romani parents allegedly "demonstrate little interest" in their children's education. In the letter, the mayor writes that he believes the current state of affairs is caused by the state organizing the education system in a fragmented, incomplete way.
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