Two Romani boys who were denied enrolment at Pesi Elementary School in Ostrava have won their case before the District Court. They have been represented jointly by lawyers from the Forum for Human Rights and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) .
The District Court Ostrava-Poruba decided on 1st March 2017 that the elementaiy school discriminated against the Romani children based on their ethnicity through the enrolment criteria for the school. The boys were amongst other Romani children denied enrolment into non-segregated mainstream school after the school director decided to select pupils based on readiness testing. Although some Roma from the potential students were enrolled, six out of the seven children rejected from the same catchment area were of Romani ethnicity. Furthermore, the school director publicly stated that he does not want more than four or five Romani children in any one classroom as a higher number of Roma could cause ‘white flight’. The director also expressed concerns that Romani children were less prepared for school education and used the testing as a way of regulating the number of Romani children.
“The court’s positive decision sends the clear message that Romani children’s right to an equal education is not something that can be arbitrarily regulated or negotiated. These Romani boys and their parents have taken control of their own rights through the court and set a great example showing that segregationist policies can be defeated by ordinary people.” said ERRC Lawyer Michal Zálešák.
The Court was clear in stating that elementary schools which are regarded to be non-segregated, and offer a higher quality education, cannot prevent or regulate the enrolment of higher numbers of Romani children. Schools which deny Romani children’s right to an equal education support further segregation as Romani children who are not enrolled, have to attend segregated schools of a lower quality. The Court expressed its belief that the school should demonstrate that schools with higher numbers of Romani children enrolled can offer a high quality education and thus prevent ‘white flight’.
”We especially appreciate the court’s statement that prevention of “white flight” cannot under any circumstances be carried out in such manner which denies the right to quality education to a particular child. The court also noted that such interference would have serious negative impact on the child’s chances in further education and employment” noted Forum for Human Rights Lawyer, Šárka Dušková.
The litigation was made possible by a project carried out by Awen Amenca Ostrava, a Romani parents association that helps parents organise themselves to challenge discrimination and achieve equal access to education. The initiative is supported by Open Societies Justice Initiative. This case comes after the ERRC informed the Czech Ombudsperson of the situation who immediately launched an investigation into the possible discrimination. The Ombudsperson held that although at secondary schools and universities, it might be appropriate to enrol pupils/students according to the number of points they scored in tests, such an approach is not appropriate when it comes to elementary schools as the school attendance is compulsory for everyone and schools should not pick only the “best children”.
The Romani families have decided, after the discriminatory experience at Pesi Elementary school, not to enrol their children at the school which denied them entry. They have instead enrolled the two boys in another non-segregated school which offers a good quality education without qualifying enrolling students by ethnicity. The boys are doing well and achieving above average grades at their new elementary school.
Less than a week after the ERRC and Amnesty International launched a new report on school segregation in Slovakia, Czech authorities should take note of cases of school segregation occurring within their own country. The Czech Republic need only look across the border to their Slovak neighbours and the ongoing European Commission infringement proceedings against them, to ensure they do not make the same mistake of letting segregation of Romani school children go unchallenged.