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OSF: Czech Government has not ended discrimination of Romani children

Prague, 5.11.2012 17:09, (ROMEA)

On 13 November 2007 the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgment in the case of "D.H. and Others versus the Czech Republic", in which 18 Romani children from Ostrava sued the Czech Republic over their having been assigned to attend "special school" on the basis of their origin. The judgment upheld their complaint and sanctioned the Czech Republic for discriminating against Romani children by disproportionately enrolling such children into the "special schools" (now called the "practical primary schools") which are designed for children who have been diagnosed as "lightly mentally disabled".

The judgment stated that Romani children are 27 times more likely to be assigned to the "practical primary schools" irrespective of whether they have actually been diagnosed with a disability. This fact was later confirmed by independent investigations. For example, research by the Czech School Inspection Authority (Česká školní inspekce) in 2010 found that an average of 35 % of the pupils attending "practical primary schools" are Romani, and in some regions more than 50 % of the pupils attending such schools are Romani.

Both the European Court of Human Rights judgment and international conventions obligate the Czech Republic to immediately correct this situation. However, five years after the judgment was issued, the situation is not changing and another generation of Romani children ended up in schools offering them restricted curricula this year. This means they will not be able to continue their studies later in life and will therefore be unable to perform any professions other than those involving manual labor.

The following is a timeline of the Government's steps and related events since the judgment was issued.

Task incomplete

The Open Society Fund Prague (in collaboration with Czech and international organizations) has called on the Czech Government many times to adopt measures to restrict the segregation of Romani children and increase inclusion in the Czech schools. The foundation has also offered its assistance to the Government with this. The measures the Government should introduce include the following:

1. Increase the "inclusivity" of Czech schools by redirecting financing in support of primary schools so they will be able to include children with special educational needs in mainstream classes and assist them in achieving their maximum educational potential, whether they be socially disadvantaged or disabled.

2. Transfer pupils currently attending the "practical primary schools" into mainstream primary schools.

3. Change the diagnostic process for children during their enrollment into primary school from its current medical model of describing disability to a system that proposes support measures to assist children in graduating from mainstream school instruction. Cancel the institutional and staff interconnections between the special education centers and the "specialized schools" so as to ensure the impartiality of the diagnostic process.

4. Ensure the availability, effectiveness and inclusivity of early childhood education for children with social disadvantage, medical disadvantage and/or disability, for example, by supporting programs to develop parental competencies, covering the costs of meal delivery at nursery schools for children from socially disadvantaged families, etc.

5. Fully implement the Government-approved "Strategy for the Fight against Social Inclusion for 2011-2015" and "National Action Plan for Inclusive Education" of 2010.

6. Comprehensively revise the existing school system so it corresponds to international and national legal obligations to provide equal, fair access to quality education in the best interests of the child.

Timeline of events

18 April 2000

• A group of 18 Romani children from Ostrava complains to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

13 November 2007

• The judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of "D. H. and others versus the Czech Republic" condemns the Czech Republic for indirectly discriminating against Romani children and obliges the state to adopt effective corrective measures.

• The Czech Republic defends itself inter alia by claiming the "special schools" which were working in this indirectly discriminatory manner in relation to Romani pupils were abolished by the School Act that took effect on 1 January 2005. However, the Government of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, which included Petr Nečas and Karel Schwarzenberg, committed to implementing this judgment.

2008

• Research by the European Roma Rights Centre (see http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=3049) and the Roma Education Fund shows that the new School Act of 2005 has not produced any actual change. Romani children continue to be disproportionately enrolled into the former "special schools", which have just been formally renamed "practical primary schools".

2009

• Research by People in Need and Ivan Gabal Analysis and Consulting determines that almost half of the "practical primary schools" are attended by pupil cohorts that are 50 % or more Romani. At least every tenth "practical primary school" is ethnically homogenous and attended exclusively by Romani minority children.

• Monitoring performed by the Institute for Information in Education at 65 % of primary schools in the Czech Republic shows that approximately 27 % of all Romani children are enrolled in the "practical elementary schools" as compared to only 2 % of non-Romani children. In any given population, only roughly 2 % of children are usually found to be "lightly mentally disabled".

2010

• The Government approves the National Action Plan for Inclusive Education (Národní akční plán inkluzívního vzdělávání - NAPIV), which is meant to serve as a basic document aiming to ensure equal access to education. However, this important document is not fulfilled.

• A thematic investigation by the Czech School Inspection Authority discovers that:

a) 83 % of the former "special schools" have not undergone the transformations presumably instituted by the School Act, effective as of 1 January 2005, and continue to profile themselves as "hidden special schools".

b) Romani children comprise approximately 35 % of all pupils diagnosed with "light mental disability", while in some regions Romani children comprise an absolute majority (53 %) of the pupils with this diagnosis.

c) There are at least 5 000 pupils enrolled in the "practical elementary schools" without the necessary medical diagnosis.

• In an official standpoint on this investigation, Public Defender of Rights Otakar Motel found:

a) "...there does not exist any authorized reason for this differential treatment which could justify the disproportionately high percentage of Romani children under these circumstances who are recommended for education in the practical primary schools..."

b) "... assigning children to be educated in the practical primary schools without a diagnosis of light mental disability is a fundamental offense by the responsible authority, irrespective of whether such children are non-Romani or Romani..."

• The first meeting of expert groups on the NAPIV takes place.

• New Education Minister Josef Dobeš gradually halts work on fulfilling the NAPIV plan and makes fundamental, negative personnel changes in the department responsible for NAPIV.

2011

• The second meeting of the platform of experts and NGOs on the NAPIV plan takes place. In response to the Education Ministry's announcement that it is not willing to collaborate with the platform, most of its members resign.

• Thomas Hammarberg, Human Rights Commissioner at the Council of Europe, in his report on his visit to the Czech Republic in 2010 (see https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1754217), warns that change is not actually taking place and calls on the Czech authorities to take the necessary steps: "With thousands of Roma children effectively excluded from the mainstream education system in the Czech Republic and condemned to a future as second-class citizens every year, the Commissioner underlines that it is now time to speed up the implementation of the inclusive education agenda."

• Decrees No. 72 and 73/2005 Coll. are amended (by 147/2011 Coll. and 116/2011 Coll.). Several dubious passages in these decrees are removed, for example, the option for 25 % of the capacity of classes in schools designed for children with medical disability (i.e., the "practical primary schools") to be filled by children who are not disabled. However, it is still possible to fill classes in these schools to capacity by enrolling medically or socially disadvantaged children in them. The option to assign children without medical disabilities to this kind of school for a so-called "diagnostic stay" also remains in place. This is a completely inappropriate instrument: There is very little probability that a child will catch up to his former schoolmates and return to mainstream school after such a "stay".

• The Roma Education Fund publishes its pilot study From Segregation to Inclusion (see http://www.romaeducationfund.hu/sites/default/files/publications/ref_uk_report_nov2011_screen_singlepages.pdf), which confirms the success of Romani children who had previously attended the "practical primary schools" in the Czech Republic or Slovakia in their studies at mainstream British schools.

• The Czech Government approves the "Strategy for the Fight against Social Inclusion for 2011- 2015", designed by the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, which contains many specific pro-inclusion measures and steps to take to stop discrimination.

• The UN Human Rights Committee (see http://www.crin.org/resources/infodetail.asp?ID=24677#hu)  and Committee on the Rights of the Child (see http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/crcs57.htm) condemn the segregation of Romani children in the Czech Republic.

• George Soros, the American philanthropist who founded the Open Society Foundations network, emphasizes at a meeting with Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas that the Czech Republic should promote inclusive education as a priority.

2012

• The European Commission halts reimbursement for part of the Structural Funds in the field of education after it is proven that part of the funds designed to finance pro-inclusive measures have been (mis)used for a different purpose.

• A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (see http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/crcs57.htm) criticizes the highly disproportionate placement of Romani children into special needs education: "It is well known in the Czech school system that a good proportion of students who attends special school do so as a result of learning difficulties and/or a social disadvantage and not following the identification of a learning disability. This is particularly the case of Roma children whose attendance of special schools is still very high in spite of the decision to progressively integrate disadvantaged students into mainstream schools."

• Research by the Office of the Public Defender of Rights confirms the ongoing discrimination of Romani children: The research determines, in a sample of 68 former "special schools", that an average of 35 % of the pupils enrolled in them are of Romani origin.

• The Czech School Inspection Authority performs an investigation of the "Transformation Process of the Former Special Schools during the 2011/2012 School Year" ("Postup transformace bývalých zvláštních škol ve školním roce 2011/2012"). According to this research, the number of Romani children in the former "special schools" has slightly declined to 26.4 %. However, as the report states: "It is necessary to consider the fact that this number could have been influenced by the sensitivity of the data being investigated and the corresponding unwillingness of school directors to answer this question." The report also mentions essential deficiencies in diagnostic procedures, the problematic institutional and staff interconnections between the special educational centers and "specialized schools', insufficient changes in the financing of support for socially disadvantaged pupils, etc.

Open Society Fund Prague, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Agentura pro sociální začleňování, Děti, Lidská práva, MŠMT, Nečas Petr, Ombudsman, Open Society Fund Praha, Soros George, Czech republic, Člověk v tísni, Education



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