Human rights watchdogs welcomed the historic 2012 verdict which found that the primary school in Šarišské Michaľany in Prešov Region discriminated against Roma students by pushing them into classrooms separate from their non-Roma peers. But the ruling has not had the impact many expected and Roma pupils are still often segregated in Slovak schools, according to a new report by Amnesty International (AI).
The government has not adopted efficient provisions to stop this trend, according to human rights advocates. The lack of progress comes despite the ongoing legal action initiated by the European Commission.
“The Slovak government has done little to eliminate the existing discrimination and segregation of Roma children at schools,” Lucia Bernátová, campaign coordinator of Amnesty International Slovensko, told The Slovak Spectator.
Roma pupils often end in so-called special schools and classes for children with mild mental disabilities, and are placed in ethnically segregated mainstream schools and classes, AI wrote in its report.
Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová also says she has not noticed any significant measures to eliminate segregation. Though the country changed the Education Act under the pressure of the European Commission, only time will show whether it helped, she added.
Legal action pending
The EC initiated infringement proceedings against Slovakia for breaching the prohibition of discrimination set out in the EU Racial Equality Directive in relation to the access of Roma to education in April 2015. It was only the second time the EC has launched such procedures against a member state.
The EC pointed to the problem again in a 2016 country report, claiming that young Roma often attend special schools with limited curricula and experience discrimination in education. The Roma inclusion index points to placement of more than half of Roma children in special and segregated schools or classes.
“Regrettably, the situation has deteriorated over the past decade, reducing chances for Roma to complete upper secondary and higher education and so hampering their opportunities on the labour market,” the EC started in its report.
The authorities, however, justified the disproportionate number of Roma in special schools and classes by alleging there is a higher prevalence of genetically determined disorders among Slovak Roma due to inbreeding, AI wrote in the report.
Moreover, the Education Ministry claimed that the state administration is not responsible for segregation at schools as they are operated by municipal authorities, reminded Vlado Rafael of the civic association EduRoma.
“The EC however claimed in its further statement that the ones responsible for discrimination of Roma children and violating European directives are in the end the state authorities,” Rafael told The Slovak Spectator.
Andrej Králik from the EC Representation in Slovakia meanwhile confirmed to The Slovak Spectator that the legal action against Slovakia is still underway. After Slovakia sent its statement to the complaints, the EC will now read it and then decide on further steps. He, however, could not specify when this will happen.
New law insufficient
In response to the EC’s criticism, the Education Ministry drafted an amendment to the Education Act in June 2015 to improve the education for children with special education needs, including those coming from a socially disadvantaged environment.
The new law contained five measures. One of them stipulates that if a child comes from socially disadvantaged environment they should not automatically attend a special school. Moreover, the amendment was to prevent segregation, set rules for operation of the special classroom and set rules for benefits on pupils from socially disadvantaged environment, the SITA newswire reported at the time.
AI, however, noted that the amendment does not contain any provisions for eliminating ethnic discrimination against Roma or the segregation of children at schools. It does not prevent placement of children into separated classrooms or schools, Bernátová said.
“The amendment also does not prohibit the discrimination and segregation of Roma children,” she told The Slovak Spectator.
Dubovcová considers the amendment “a first step”. To improve the situation will require also other changes in diagnosing children before they start attending primary schools, but also in schools’ equipment and staff, financing and support of expert employees.
“It is not only the question of the Education Act,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator. “It requires consistent work with the public opinion and majority population in localities where these children live.”
Children still separated
A 2012 UN Development Programme survey showed that 43 percent of Roma pupils in Slovak schools were in ethnically segregated classes. In the same year, the Prešov Regional Court confirmed a historic verdict in a case concerning discrimination against Roma in the education system issued by a district court in January 2012, related to the primary school in Šarišské Michaľany.
Yet the problems have not been solved by the verdict, as is proven by several visits AI made in 2015 to localities in the region under the High Tatras , Bernátová said.
“Though the government proposed in 2013 to solve the problem of insufficient school capacities and high number of new, mostly Roma pupils by constructing container schools, this provision may only deepen the segregation,” she added.
Three container schools they visited in 2015 had one thing in common: they were used exclusively by Roma pupils. One school was even built directly in a Roma settlement, Bernátová continued.
Dubovcová, however, says that though she also has information that some container schools are visited only by Roma, this could reflect a larger societal divide rather than school segregation specifically.
Lacking a definition
Rights advocates agree that the Education Act lacks the clear definition of what segregation is. They all call on the government to clearly ban the discrimination and segregation and introduce a sanction mechanism.
“According to my findings, if the discrimination and segregation from the side of public administration bodies and their representatives are not sanctioned, they will still be used in practice,” Dubovcová said.
EduRoma currently works on the definition of segregation and indicators for its elimination at schools, according to Rafael.
“It is very important that schools know about the definition and understand it,” said Bernátová.
19. Apr 2016 at 6:30 | Radka Minarechová