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December 13, 2018
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Foreign Affairs, Justice, Labor and Social Affairs Ministries warn EdMin changes to inclusion violate the Czech Republic's obligations

6.12.2018 16:44
--ilustrační foto--
--ilustrační foto--

Some of the proposed changes to a decree about how to educate children together in schools that have been proposed by the Education Ministry are most likely not in accordance with international human rights conventions. The proposals also apparently contravene a 10-year-old decision against the Czech Republic handed down by the European Court of Human Rights.

Both the Czech Foreign Affairs and the Czech Justice Ministries have raised these concerns in their commentaries on the draft amendment. They are asking the Education Ministry to withdraw its plan to restrict the current number of teaching assistants available per class and to withdraw its plan to make it possible to open schools for the mildly mentally disabled to children who do not have this kind of disability.

If the decree is revised as proposed then, according to the Education Ministry, there will be cost savings, a reduction to the administrative burden placed on schools and educational advisory facilities, and an enhancement to the social inclusion of children living with disabilities. The revised decree would apply as of 1 March.

The proposed changes count on children sharing a maximum of one teaching assistant per class. Up until now it has been possible for there to be three assistants in addition to the teacher.

The proposal also would not include a current provision that enshrines the principle that it is preferable to educate as many children in mainstream schools as possible. According to the Education Minister that provision exists already elsewhere in the Education Act and removing it from the decree does not endanger the principle of inclusive education.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry disagrees. The proposed changes, according to them, contravene the Czech Republic's obligations flowing from the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Moreover, the changes can have a negative impact on fulfilling the 2007 judgment from the European Court of Human Rights that condemned discrimination against Romani children in the Czech education system, according to the Foreign Ministry. The proposal, according to Foreign Affairs, relativizes the principle of inclusion by referring, in the explanatory report on the amendment, to the negative opinion held of inclusion by "a large proportion of the public".

The Foreign Affairs Ministry believes the number of teaching assistants allowed per class should not be changed in the decree and the time frame during which the appropriateness of enrolling a pupil into special schools must be reassessed should not be extended beyond the current outside limit of two years, as the Education Ministry is proposing to do. Similar reservations about the proposed changes are also held by the Justice Ministry, the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, and the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic.

All of those government bodies are bothered by the idea that children with a much broader range of disabilities would be newly allowed to be educated in the separate special needs schools as a result of the changes. According to the Justice Ministry, that could lead to more children who have been diagnosed with mild mental disability being more frequently educated in the special needs schools designed for children with more severe disabilities - because a diagnosis of mild mental disability that has been disproportionately given to Romani children in the past.

According to data from the Ministry, last year Romani children comprised 29.5 % of the pupils attending special needs schools for children with mild mental disability, while just 3.6 % of all children, including some with such a disability being educated in mainstream schools, have such a diagnosis. The Justice Ministry also believes the amendments as proposed would make it possible even for children without this disability to be educated in special needs schools.

According to the explanatory report on the proposed changes, special schools serving children with mild mental disability would become open to children with what the report calls "serious behavioral or learning disorders" as a result of the amendment. The director of the Department for Preschool, Primary, Primary Arts and Special Education at the Education Ministry, Jaroslav Faltýn, told the Czech News Agency previously that only pupils living with such disabilities would be able to continue attending classes for the mentally disabled.

The decree under amendment has been in effect since September 2016 and is a response, among other matters, to a previous judgment against the Czech Republic at the European Court of Human Rights. In the year 2007 the Czech Republic was condemned for having violated the right to education of several Romani children by recommending them for education in what where then called the "special [zvláštní] schools" on the basis of their ethnicity and thereby discriminating  against them. 

After that judgment was handed down, the Czech Republic pledged to change its practice. For that reason, the Education Ministry submits an annual report on the fulfillment of the measures adopted and the progress made.

That information is regularly sent to the Council of Europe, where the European Court is based, by the Education Ministry. The decree in question has already been revised twice recently, once in the summer of 2017 and then at the close of 2017 and start of 2018.

The current proposed changes have been welcomed by a group calling itself the Association of Special Educators of the Czech Republic, which has long criticized the current arrangement of inclusion. According to that group, the proposed amendments are based on findings from the practice of educators and psychologists and capture, to a large degree, the changes they deem necessary when it comes to the education of pupils with disabilities.

According to the Czech Finance Ministry, it is not absolutely clear whether the amendment will actually lead to cost savings. That ministry is therefore demanding guarantees that the proposed changes will not incur any other costs to the state budget.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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