MINELRES: School Segregation Declared Unlawful by Hungarian Courts

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Fri Oct 15 14:44:14 2004

Original sender: European Roma Rights Center <errc@errc.org>

Hungarian Courts Condemn Segregation of Children with Learning

On 7 October 2004, in a major test case, the Budapest Metropolitan City
Court of Appeals (Fovarosi Itelotabla) upheld the first instance court
decision, dated 1 June 2004, by which the Borsod-Abauj-Zemplen County
Court ordered the primary school in Tiszatarjan and the local
governments of Tiszatarjan and Hejokurt respectively to pay damages in
the total amount of 3 650 000 Hungarian forints (approximately 14600
euro), with accrued interest, to nine families whose children have been
unlawfully kept in a segregated class and taught based on a special
(inferior) curriculum from 1994 to 1999, in the absence of any prior
certification declaring them mentally deficient and unable to attend
regular classes. All of the children affected, most of them Romani, came
from families with low income and social standing in the community and
have accordingly had difficulties in asserting their legal rights and
interests in the education context.

The complaint, filed in 2001 by attorney Lilla Farkas as part of a joint
strategic litigation project undertaken by the Legal Defence Bureau for
National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI) and the European Roma Rights
Center (ERRC), was based on the school psychologists’ assessment that
rather than being afforded additional support for their learning
difficulties, it was "in the children's own best interest" to be placed
in a special class for the mentally deficient, disregarding their age,
pedagogical and psychological authority, and ultimately even the
prescribed legal procedure. Moreover, following their segregation, the
plaintiffs, otherwise pupils with normal IQs, were taught by an
unqualified student-teacher and bullied by their peers as "retarded",
thus further adding to their stigmatization.

In its judgment of 7 October 2003, the Budapest Metropolitan City Court
of Appeals concluded that the segregation of the plaintiffs by the
school and the local authorities was in breach of the Hungarian Public
Education Act. It also stressed that as a result of this practice the
plaintiffs have suffered and will continue to suffer profound
psychological harm. In addition, the court held that the school had
clearly failed to recognize and address the plaintiffs’ learning
difficulties and had instead chosen to administer an inferior curriculum
which has jeopardized their future development. The court pointed out
that on completing their studies the plaintiffs will suffer additional
disadvantage in terms of diminished chances for further education as
well as with regard to their employment opportunities compared to their
peers schooled on the basis of the regular curriculum. Finally, the
court concluded that the local authorities of Tiszatarjan and Hejokurt,
in their capacity as funders and supervisors of the school in question,
did not secure and maintain its lawful operation and held that this in
and of itself amounts to major negligence.

NEKI and the ERRC welcome the ruling of the Budapest Metropolitan City
Court of Appeals as a crucial precedent establishing that segregation
and stigmatization of children with learning difficulties is both
morally unacceptable legally untenable. Throughout Europe, pupils of
Romani origin suffer racial discrimination in education. Their
overwhelmingly disproportionate placement in special schools or special
classes for the mentally deficient, or in other forms of substandard,
stigmatizing schooling arrangements, can have no reasonable and
objective justification.

For additional details regarding the above judgement, please contact
Ioana Banu, ERRC staff attorney (e-mail: ioana@errc.org, phone:+361 413
2200) and/or Lilla Farkas, attorney-at-law (e-mail: medial1@axelero.hu,
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public
interest law organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at
combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in
particular strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and
policy development, and training of Romani activists. 
For more information about the European Roma Rights Center, visit the
ERRC website at http://www.errc.org.

The Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities provides
legal assistance to members of national and ethnic minorities who live
in Hungary, as defined in the act on the rights of national and ethnic
minorities, and have suffered discrimination due to their national or
ethnic origin. For more information about the Legal Defense Bureau for
National and Ethnic Minorities, visit the NEKI website
at http://www.neki.hu.

European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Phone:+36 1 4132200
Fax:+36 1 4132201

Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities
1537 Budapest 114
P.O. Box 453/269
Phone/Fax: +36 1 3038973 and +36 1 3144998


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