(English) Council of Europe demands proof of changed practice in the Czech schools when it comes to Roma discrimination

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The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which supervises the fulfillment of the judgments handed down by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, discussed the case of “D.H. and Others versus the Czech Republic” at its June session. In its decision resulting from that meeting, the Committee of Ministers has expressed its appreciation for recently introduced reforms to the Czech school system that are based on the principle of inclusive education.

On the basis of the D.H. judgment in 2007 the Czech Republic was condemned for discriminating against Romani pupils, who are disproportionately diagnosed with “mild mental disability” and then recommended for assignment into schools that were previously called “special” (zvláštní) and today are called “practical”. As of September this year, a new system of support for pupils with special educational needs, i.e., pupils with various types of disabilities or disadvantages, will begin to function so that such pupils can be more successfully educated in mainstream schools.

Abolition of the curriculum especially designed for pupils with “mild mental disability” is part of the reforms that will begin when the summer vacation ends. The Committee of Ministers also referred in its decision to the currently insufficient results of previous school reforms in the Czech Republic.

Too large a number of pupils of Romani origin continue to be instructed according to the curriculum for pupils with “mild mental disability” (which is taught at the so-called “practical primary schools”) – specifically, 30.6 % of the pupils enrolled in such schools are Romani, which does not correspond to the representation of Romani people in Czech society. There are almost 10 times as many Romani pupils enrolled in the “practical primary schools” as are enrolled in mainstream primary schools, where only 3.9 % of all pupils are Romani.

The representation of Romani pupils in the “practical primary schools”, moreover, has remained all but unchanged for the past three years during which the Czech School Inspectorate has regularly collected ethnically disaggregated data. The Committee of Ministers has, therefore, called on the Czech Government to provide for the introduction of sufficient financial support and hiring of personnel in order to follow the impacts of the reforms.

Even though a two-year transition period awaits during which pupils will be awarded support according to the new system, the Committee of Ministers does not intend to wait for that time period to elapse before asking to see results, and expects the reforms to achieve impacts during the coming school year. The Czech Government must submit more numbers on the education of Romani pupils to the Committee of Ministers by February 2017.

The Committee of Ministers also said nonprofit organizations and the Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsperson) should contribute to seeking solutions for discrimination against Romani pupils in education. The Committee of Ministers emphasized the important, irreplaceable role of such entities in combating discrimination and recommended the Czech Governmnet continue close collaboration with them.

Given the current attacks being launched in the Czech Republic against nonprofit organizations working in the schools, the Committee of Ministers made a point of expressing this important acknowledgment of their work. In June the Council of Europe also warned of the ongoing segregation of Romani pupils in education on another occasion, namely, a report by the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

That report also focuses on the issue of the forced sterilizations of Romani women and on the issue of the pig farm at Lety, which stands on the site of a former concentration camp for Romani people. The Committee of Ministers’ June decision constitutes a clear statement of support for inclusive changes to the Czech education system.

Mere legislative reforms, however, will be far from enough to fulfill the judgment of “D.H. and Others versus the Czech Republic”. The Committee of Ministers is demanding proof of changes in practice starting with the coming school year.

The Committee of Ministers has emphasized the need to follow how the approved reforms are implemented. Without clear numbers demonstrating that improvements have occurred in the education of Romani pupils, monitoring of the judgment will continue and the matter will not be considered closed.

Štěpán Vidím Drahokoupil, OSF Prague, coordinator of the Education of Children and Youth program, translated by Gwendolyn Albert