(English) Commentary: Czech tabloid continues its anti-inclusion campaign

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At a time when we are facing so-called “alternative facts” (or untruths) more and more frequently in the public discourse, correcting the record appears to become more and more of a Sisyphean task. Long before the term “alternative facts” was used by an adviser to the US President, we here in the Czech Republic have been facing a textbook example of how facts and information are handled this way by the media.

A massive media campaign against inclusive education has been underway for some time now. Last week the Parlamentní listy (PL) tabloid carried on disseminating untruths about inclusive education by publishing an article alleging that child welfare authorities are supposed to prosecute the parents of children living with disabilities if they disagree with enrolling their children into mainstream schools as part of inclusion.

According to the tabloid, Czech Education Minister Kateřina Valachová, naturally, is supposed to be behind this non-existent policy. Specifically, this is supposedly about situations where the parent of a child living with a disability disagrees with the recommendations of an educational guidance facility – either a Special Pedagogical Center (SPC) or a Pedagogical-Psychological Counseling Center (PPP) – that a child be mainstreamed and continues to insist on enrolling a child into a special school.

The tabloid predicts that “social services” would intervene legally at that juncture. Just as with most of the minimally credible scaremongering of this nature, there does exist a grain of truth to these allegations.

The PPPs and SPCs are the gatekeepers to enrollment into special education. If the experts in those centers assess a child as ineligible for special education then it is impossible to enroll that child into such a program.

If the experts do recommend that a child is eligible for education in a special school, then the parent still has the option of choosing between a mainstream and a special school for that child. This approach has been applied for many years now, and the new rules promoting inclusive education that have been in effect since last September have changed absolutely nothing about it.

The educational guidance centers are not established by the Education Ministry, and child welfare services are not managed by that ministry either. How any Education Minister might issue “black and white” orders to those not under the ministry’s jurisdiction is a bit of a mystery to me.

Now let’s return to the idea of an eventual legal intervention by child welfare authorities against parents who disagree that their child living with a disability could be mainstreamed. The tabloid article is basing that claim on information that those authorities could intervene if parents insist on enrolling their children into a special school even without the consent and recommendation of the gatekeeping guidance center.

If parents were to insist on such enrollments, that would violate the law, and it therefore would theoretically be the child welfare authorities’ role to intervene. We can, naturally, admit that in some places, local guidance centers or social services fail to perform their roles as they should.

Nevertheless, such a case would be one of local misconduct and would not involve carrying out orders from a minister. Moreover, no massive reassignment of pupils from the special schools into mainstream ones is happening.

What the media have actually reported on recently is a particular case from Brno. In that case, both child welfare authorities and a mainstream school pressured a mother to enroll her child into a special school – in other words, not to mainstream her child inclusively.

Both Brno City Hall and the Czech School Inspectorate found that the child welfare authorities and the mainstream school had committed misconduct in that case. If anybody working at PL actually believes they are defending the alleged “victims of inclusion” by waging this campaign of theirs, they couldn’t be further from the truth.

The decision whether to educate a child in a mainstream or a special school is one of the most difficult decisions in a parent’s life. Disseminating fake news and scaremongering about child welfare authorities, the Education Ministry, parents’ rights and the role of guidance centers just makes the situation of the parents of children living with disabilities worse.

Štěpán Drahokoupil, translated by Gwendolyn Albert

The commentary was originally published at Romea.cz