Independent Romani protest against Czech "special schools"
News server iDNES.cz reports that dozens of Romani people marched through Ostrava today demanding equal access to education. The protesters wanted to draw attention to the fact that the school system in the Czech Republic is arranged to their disadvantage and results in discrimination against Romani people. At the end of peaceful event, the demonstrators marched from the town hall through the town center to the building of the Czech School Inspection Authority carrying signs reading "Stop segregation!" and "Inclusive education".
Dozens of candles were lit by the protesters in front of the Ostrava
town hall. "We wanted to symbolize the burial of a bad education
system," Šmarhovyčová explained. The protesters set out
on their march through the center of town with banners and candles shortly before 5 PM.
"I don't want Romani children to be targeted for enrollment into the special schools," said 40-year-old Elena, a Romani field social worker who works for a nonprofit organization. As a parent, she had a bad experience of the Czech school system of her own to report. "When my boy started school, it was discovered that he is hyperactive. That was the reason they put him into special school. It definitely did not benefit him. While he was at the special school, he practically forgot everything he had learned in the normal primary school. Moreover, he started doing things he wasn't supposed to do," she said.
Jolana Šmarhovyčová, one of the organizers of the event, said it was the first protest action by Romani people done independently of any nonprofit organizations or official authorities. The protest was organized by Romani people in Ostrava themselves. "A small group of Romani people in Ostrava came up with the idea that we must empower ourselves somehow, not ask any nonprofit organizations for help, do this protest action on our own," said Šmarhovyčová. "We are here on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the European Court of Human Rights judgment, which said the segregation of Romani children and their assignment into special classes and schools is illegal. Today it's five years since that judgment was handed down. Besides a few minor changes to the law, nothing has changed since then."
A group of protesting Romani girls said they want the same opportunities for education as those afforded to people from the majority part of society. "I have friends who go to special school and I don't think it is benefiting them," said 15-year-old Nikol Viragová, who wants to become a baker.
Martin Grinvalský, the convener of the event, said the following to news server Romea.cz before it took place: "I emphasize that this will be a completely peaceful action. We want to express our uneasiness over the ongoing discriminatory approaches inside educational institutions that are restricting the development of Romani children and their opportunities for subsequent education. People also want to draw attention to the insufficient education of the teachers now working with Romani children, who often are unable to create the conditions for a conflict-free coexistence between the majority and minorities because their interventions are ignorant of ethnic specifics."
Grinvalský and other Romani residents of Ostrava belong to a civic initiative that meets regularly and wants to motivate other Romani people to become more engaged.
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