“In grade 7 of the special school I learned the same things that I learned in grade 3 of the mainstream school.”
14-year-old Romani boy, found to have been erroneously placed in the special school
In Slovakia, huge numbers of Romani children are inappropriately placed in "special schools" for children with mental disabilities, where they receive a substandard education, and have very limited opportunities for employment and further education. Independent studies suggest that as many as 80 per cent of children placed in special schools in Slovakia are Roma.
Once children are assigned to special schools, the door leading back to mainstream education for children of average or above-average ability remains shut.
Pavlovce nad Uhom is a town in eastern Slovakia, 10km from the borders with Ukraine. More than 50 per cent of its 4,500 inhabitants are Roma. There are two elementary schools in the town: a mainstream school and a special school for children with mental disabilities.
Nearly two thirds of Romani children attending primary school in Pavlovce nad Uhom are de facto segregated in the special school. 99.5 per cent of the approximately 200 pupils of the special school are Roma.
Officially, children can only be placed in special schools after the formal diagnosis of a mental disability and only with the full consent of their parents. However, many children in Pavlovce nad Uhom had not been assessed at all and the assessment process itself was deeply flawed. At the same time parental consent was often neither free nor informed.
Following inspections instigated by the Mayor of the locality in 2007, it was officially acknowledged that 17 of these pupils did not belong in the special school and had been placed there erroneously. Amnesty International believes the real number is far higher and that more Romani children - whose rightful place is in the mainstream school - continue to be denied their right to education in Pavlovce nad Uhom.
The serious human rights violations in Pavlovce nad Uhom are not just the result of individual human errors, but of a broader failure to eliminate discrimination in both the design and the implementation of the Slovak education system.
Amnesty International calls on the Slovak authorities to recognise these failings and introduce the necessary structural reforms. In particular Amnesty International calls on the Director of the Regional School Authority of the Košice region – founder of and directly responsible for the special school in Pavlovce nad Uhom – to:
- Ensure that all placement decisions are reviewed and all children currently attending Pavlovce nad Uhom special school re-assessed in order to identify pupils who may have been placed there erroneously, and ensure their swift reintegration in the mainstream school as appropriate; in those cases the Regional School Authority should also provide an effective remedy, including reparations to the children affected;
- Take appropriate measures against state employees who are found to have acted in breach of Slovak law and at the expense of the education of Romani children in Pavlovce nad Uhom;
- Ensure that the enrolment of pupils is under no circumstances approved by the special school unless they have been clearly, objectively and unambiguously diagnosed with mental disabilities; such diagnosis must precede the placement of the child; parental request or consent should not be the decisive factor for such a placement.