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Romani pupils who are not intellectually disabled do not belong in "special" schools

Prague, 20.9.2012 18:26, (ROMEA)

Many intellectually healthy Romani children in the Czech Republic are still being enrolled into the "practical primary schools" intended for children who are "lightly mentally disabled". Five years ago, a European Court for Human Rights judgment was handed down in Strasbourg which established that such procedures mean Romani children are being discriminated against in their access to education in the Czech Republic. "The objective fact that [Romani children] are not prepared for school has been confused with mental disability," Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková said today during a panel discussion reported on by news server Aktuálně.cz.

The enrollments into the "practical primary schools" occur because mainstream schools have an aversion to Romani pupils and are unwilling to enroll them because of pressure from majority-society parents - and sometimes even pressure from Romani parents who believe the "practical primary schools" are the best for their offspring. Greater involvement of teachers' aides and teaching assistants in the mainstream schools could help the situation. Šimůnková expressed her appreciation of the current leadership of the Czech Education Ministry, which she said is "moving forward on this matter".

According to the results of research published by the Czech School Inspection Authority in August, the proportion of Romani pupils being educated as if they are mentally disabled has fallen over the past two years. While Romani children previously comprised 35 % of the pupils educated in programs for the disabled, they currently comprise only 26.4 %. School inspectors conducted their investigation in practical primary schools which were previously designated "special" (zvláštní) schools. Only schoolchildren with diagnoses of "light mental disability" should end up in such schools, but children often are enrolled into them solely on the basis of their poor social backgrounds.

Since last school year, parents must give their "informed consent" to enrolling their children into the "practical primary schools". According to the Czech Education Ministry, efforts to enroll Romani children - and not only them - into mainstream education have also increased. Two years ago, the former "special" schools educated a total of 68 % of their pupils on the basis of disability, but today only 49 % of their pupils are enrolled on that basis.

Some parents have preferred the former "special" schools for their children, unaware that attending such schools would mean their offspring would lose the opportunity to attend higher education and a chance at a better future. "However, the investigation shows there are still cases of parents who do not want to transfer their children into mainstream education even though school guidance counselors recommend the transfer," the inspectors said. Since 2009, 38 pupils in 15 of the schools monitored were educated according to a "special education" regime at the wishes of their parents, even though they were actually intellectually healthy.

According to the Czech Education Ministry, recent legislative changes regarding this issue will become more apparent from the start of this school year. According to the new rules, pupils may only be assigned into the "practical primary schools" for one year at the very most. After that year, experts will have to verify whether the pupil enrolled in such a school still belongs there. In the case of pupils who are socially disadvantaged, the time in the "practical primary school" has been shortened to five months.

The panel discussion was convened by Czech Education Minister Petr Fiala, Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková and ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský. The discussion was intended to aid in eliminating discrimination against children and the creation of an education system that guarantees equal access to education for all.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, fk, Aktuálně.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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