International study claims Romani children still discriminated against in education in Europe
While the situation is slowly improving, discrimination and segregation of Romani children in the Czech education system still persists more than eight years after the judgment in the case of "D.H. and Others versus the Czech Republic". In that judgment, the European Court for Human Rights ruled that 18 Romani children had been illegally assigned to "special schools".
That is just one conclusion of a study recently published by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), the Czech translation of which was released last week. The study focused on the impact of litigation (i.e., changes in the enjoyment of rights achieved through judicial decisions) on desegregating the schools as far as Romani children are concerned.
In addition to the Czech Republic, the study followed the situation in Greece and Hungary, where similar judgments against those countries have also been achieved. The discrimination, according to the study, is based on abusing diagnoses of "mild mental disability" when it comes to Romani children.
After the D.H. judgment was handed down, the state began to track the proportion of Romani children in schools intended for children with that disability. Through statistical data, it has been confirmed that the proportion of Romani children in that kind of education is several times bigger than expected given their representation in the overall population.
Czech Public Defender of Rights Anna Šabatová said on 21 April that the fact that the state had begun to collect such data despite criticism of its doing so was a breakthrough. The disproportionately frequent assignment of Romani children into the "special schools" was common practice for 40 years before the D.H. case ever came to trial, the study points out.
After the judgment was handed down, an open discussion began in the Czech Republic about discrimination, and educational assessment centers have reportedly begun to diagnose "mild mental disability" in better ways. "The current developments and situation indicate, albeit quite tentatively, that the practice of disproportionately assigning Romani children into programs for the lightly mentally disabled is changing for the better," the study asserts.
However, some members of the public, including the Association of Special Educators, which was established in 2010, are objecting to this change. The study recalls that the Czech Government's announcement of its intention to abolish the separate special education of pupils with "mild mental disability" sparked an angry outcry in September 2011.
Then-Education Minister Josef Dobeš subsequently toned down his messaging on the issue in November 2011 and declared that no "practical" or "special schools" would be closed. Similar debates have repeated several times and continue to this day.
In recent months, this debate again escalated in connection with changes to inclusive education that have been prepared for launch in September. Representatives of the nonprofit sector who focus on this issue believe the innovations could bring about an improvement.
Children should be able to get the support they need in mainstream schools more easily as a result of the changes. Klára Laurenčíková, an expert on inclusive education, also sees a positive step as being the abolition of a separate curriculum for the "lightly mentally disabled", the content of which has now been integrated into the program taught at mainstream primary schools.
She said she believes this will make it easier to integrate such children into mainstream schools. Romani representatives who attended the discussion of the OSJI study last week, however, expressed doubt as to whether the changes will actually be real and questioned whether separate education might not continue.
Šabatová offered Romani families a helping hand with such issues. "I offer the support of the Public Defender of Rights to all who feel their cases have been poorly assessed when it comes to support being awarded to their children in the schools," she said.
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