Slovak apartheid ends at one school
The Slovak daily Sme reports that until recently, a school in the town of Šarišské Michaľany was educating dark-skinned children on its first floor and white-skinned children on the ground floor. The playground was divided into separate sections as well, while the cafeteria offered cooked food for the whites and “dry food” for the others.
It sounds like something from a documentary film about the South African Republic during the apartheid era, or the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Last year, the Regional Court in Prešov handed down an historic, first-ever verdict condemning the school for segregating Romani children away from the others.
"We must look for what we have in common, not for what divides us,” says the school’s new director, Jaroslav Valaštiak. A pedagogue with 30 years of experience, he joined the school last August and has already managed to reorganize the classrooms. Children now share the playground and he bought 13 more tables for the cafeteria so all pupils can eat lunch together.
"It's high time to start the process of assisting children from socially disadvantaged environments. When we help them, we are helping ourselves,” the director says. The school was given until the end of September to bring its segregation to an end.
Almost two-thirds of the 425 pupils attending the primary school are Romani. Most of them attend daily from a settlement in Ostravany approximately four kilometers away.
In the 24 classes created several years ago, 15 included only children from socially disadvantaged environments. Eight of the classes were mixed in terms of disadvantage and one class was for whites only. The verdict instructed to the school to “meet its obligation to ensure the natural assignment of children into common classes so that the pedagogical process is not disturbed.”
At the invitation of the US Embassy and the eduRoma association, US professor Gary Orfield visited Šarišské Michaľany to give expert advice. Orfield once lived on an Indian reservation and has dedicated himself to working with Black schools in the southern US and Hispanic schools in the western US. In his view, segregation of any kind destroys social relationships.
"When we can’t manage to unite, civilization reaches a stage of unstoppable collapse. Segregation stems from fear, lack of trust, and prejudice. If you want to change things for the better, you must get rid of it,” Orfield said.
The eduRoma association is now helping the director, the pupils and the teachers at the school. Volunteers from Slovak colleges will also work with the children. "If we close our eyes to this problem and stay silent about it, it will come back to haunt us all sooner or later,” said Vladimír Rafael of eduRoma.
On 25 April, Gary Orfield met in Prague with experts on inclusive education and representatives of nonprofits in the Czech Republic. News server Romea.cz will be posting video footage of an interview with him shortly.
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