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ERRC suing Czech Republic over discrimination of Romani children

Ostrava/Prague, 31.7.2012 3:57, (ROMEA)
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When they were children, the people bringing this lawsuit against the Czech Republic could have gone to a mainstream, nine-year primary school, then to an academic or vocational secondary school, and then found some work. Instead, it is very likely that they were unjustly enrolled into practical primary (previously called “special”) schools, which resulted in their receiving fewer opportunities to continue their educations and find good jobs.

Due to this discrimination in the education system, the Czech state will be once again sued. The lawsuit reportedly involves 28 pupils.

“We are starting a new lawsuit against the Czech Republic similar to the last one the country lost before an international court. Our ambition is to win this case here, not abroad. We suspect that if arguments about discrimination are made at home by this country’s own institutions, they will be a lot stronger than when they are voiced from abroad,” Marek Szilvasi of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) told the Czech daily Lidové noviny (LN). The ERRC is going to file its application within the next few days.

The previous case involved 18 Ostrava-based children. In 2007, after the judgment was issued by the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, the Czech Republic was supposed to commit itself to eliminating discrimination in the schools.

According to the Commission of Ministers of the Council of Europe – the organization that oversees compliance with Court judgments – and according to a number of Czech experts, the country has not thoroughly complied with the judgment. That is why the ERRC has prepared a new lawsuit. LN has learned that the case will once again concern children from schools in Ostrava.

“This group is very similar to the previous one. Some are even relatives, cousins, or siblings, of the children from the first case. These are people who ended up in the same schools with the same limited educational programs. Two of the schools are practical primary schools and two of the schools are mainstream primary schools with separate special needs classes,” Szilvasi said.

The organization originally wanted to file the lawsuit in the spring, but has faced resistance from the schools. “We have a power of attorney from all of the parents of these children, but the schools refused to release their documentation to us,” Szilvasi claims. The ERRC is therefore filing its lawsuit without all of the necessary documents and is requesting the court enforce the parents’ instructions to the schools to release their children’s information to the ERRC. He refused to comment further on the case.

The Education Ministry is not aware such a lawsuit is underway. “We do not believe there is any reason for them to take such a step,” the ministry’s first deputy education minister responded when contacted by LN.

[Former] Education Minister Josef Dobeš was often criticized for the fact that he did not make the inclusion of most children into mainstream education a priority. This year Dobeš was replaced by Petr Fiala, who promised to remedy the situation. According to Deputy Education Minister Nantl, the ministry will address changing the existing legislation. Plans are also in place to revise the diagnostic methods used by the Psychological-Pedagogical Counseling Centers (PPP) as they pertain to the release of the professional opinions that serve as the basis for pupils to be transferred out of mainstream primary education. “Among the most important measures to be considered in the next few days is an option to make the procedure for transferring pupils into special education stricter,” Nantl claims.

According to Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, it is important that the ministry stop constantly sending out its lists of “planned measures” and instead be able to show particular steps it has taken and their results. “This has to be speeded up. A fortnight ago, at a session of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs, we adopted a resolution calling on the ministry to intensify its steps and to present us with particular data and results that can demonstrate progress on this issue,” Šimůnková explained.

As a result of the D.H. judgment, the Czech Republic must ensure the elimination of discrimination in the schools. According to international and some domestic organizations, the Czech state has been ignoring “inclusive education”. The basic idea of inclusion is an effort to prove all children an appropriate, highest possible level of education whatever their specific needs are. Children who do not have difficulties learning should be educated together in the same classroom with children who have learning disorders, pupils from socially excluded localities, and children living with physical disability.

In order to improve conditions in the schools, the Czech Government adopted a Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion last fall. An essential point of the strategy is the obligation to abolish all practical primary schools within the next four years. Specialized schools for children with severe disability would continue to operate. Children, most often Romani children, end up attending the practical primary schools even though they are not actually lightly mentally disabled. Compared to mainstream primary schools, the curriculum at the practical primary schools is reduced and their pupils have almost no chance of continuing their studies at academic or vocational secondary school.

In 2010, The World Bank calculated that the Czech Republic is losing at least CZK 16 billion in potential revenues annually because of segregation in education. The vast majority of the pupils attending the practical primary schools are unemployable when they stop attending school and never get jobs.

Lidové noviny
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