Segregated Roma classes at Czech school spark criticism

Illustrative photo: Gabriela Hauptvogelová

Czech schools have repeatedly been criticised by international watchdogs and advocacy groups for their practice of placing disproportionately large numbers of Roma children in segregated schools. In a most recent case, a school in the small town of Krásná Lípa in north Bohemia has come into the spotlight after creating a special Roma class, allegedly to help the Roma children catch up with the rest of their schoolmates.

Illustrative photo: Gabriela Hauptvogelová
One of the priorities of a new school law that is to take effect in 2016 is securing inclusive education for children in schools all over the country, including those from socially disadvantaged families and Roma children. But the case in Krásná Lípa, which segregated Roma children from the rest of the pupils before they even started the education process, shows that the idea may prove difficult to implement in real life.

The headmaster of the incriminated elementary school in Krásná Lípa argues that her decision was based solely on the fact that most of the Roma kids had not attended kindergarten and would therefore have a different starting point from the others. However, the parents of the Roma children find the argument hard to believe, adding that no one warned them about these plans until the beginning of the school year. This is what one of them told Czech Television:

“They told us that they had set up the special class in order re-educate our kids and teach them some basic skills such as how to use the toilet, how to hold scissors or a pencil in their hand. But I don’t understand it. Why should my children have to learn things that they already know?”

The mayor of Krásná Lípa admitted that the reason for setting up a special class for Roma children may in fact be quite different:

“Some parents from the majority society decided not to send their kids to our school anymore because the number of Roma kids in our classrooms has been gradually increasing.”

Zdeněk Ryšavý,  photo: archive of Czech Radio
But according to Zdeněk Ryšavý, head of a leading Roma advocacy group Romea, the practice of segregating Roma kids from the rest of the society is always bad and will only create more problems in the future:

“This practice goes against the principles defined in the recently adopted government strategy which says that kids from different backgrounds, in this case Czech and Roma kids, should be educated together from a very early age. Segregation has far-reaching consequences, because it results in Czechs and the Roma not living together but next to each other. The only good thing about this is that we are receiving complaints from Roma parents, who are finally starting to realize the danger of their kids being educated separately.”

According to Mr Ryšavý, the case in Krásná Lípa may not be isolated, adding that a similar complaint from a different town is now being investigated.

In reaction to the situation in Krásná Lípa, the Minister for Human Rights and the Education Ministry have already pledged to send their people to further examine the matter.