MINELRES: ERRC School Desegregation Lawsuit in Bulgaria

European Roma Rights Center minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Wed May 28 13:57:01 2003


ERRC Lawsuit Challenges Education Discrimination Against Romani Children
in Bulgarian Schools

May 20, 2003, Sofia, Bulgaria:

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and local counsel announced at a
press conference today in Sofia that they will file a lawsuit before the
Sofia District Court on behalf of 29 Romani school children against the
Ministry of Education, the Municipality of Sofia, and the 75th Todor
Kableshkov School. The lawsuit, to be filed on May 21, alleges
violations of Bulgarian and international law arising from the racial
segregation of and discrimination against Romani students forced to
attend poor-quality, all-Roma schools in Romani settlements in Sofia.
Such actions violate constitutional guarantees of equality and the right
to education, as well as international treaties to which Bulgaria is a
party.

This lawsuit will be filed following completion of academic testing
conducted by specialists from the Regional Inspectorate on Education
which showed glaringly that Romani children attending a racially
integrated educational environment, i.e. mixed or Bulgarian schools,
performed much better compared to their peers attending the segregated
Roma-only schools.

The schools where the plaintiffs are/were educated (some have already
graduated) suffer from poor material conditions, including lack of
heating and electricity and overcrowded classrooms. They lack adequate
school supplies and textbooks and computer rooms, even though computer
classes are compulsory within the framework of the national education
program. The quality of education is severely affected by the
excessively high number of pupils per teacher in classes in the all-Roma
schools, lower expectations of the teachers, and frequent turnover of
teachers due to the poor transportation and physical conditions of the
schools. It is alleged that teachers demonstrate offensive attitudes
toward children on grounds of their ethnic origin. Teachers are not
prepared to work in a multicultural environment and have no programs to
help children whose first language is Romani rather than Bulgarian.

The number of children in the classrooms far exceeds the limits set by
the Ministry of Education. For example, in the 75th Todor Kableshkov
school in the Fakulteta settlement in Sofia, there are ten first-grade
classes with an average of 34 children per class, where Ministry of
Education rules proscribe between 17 and 22 children in the first four
grades. The second-, third- and fourth-grade classes have an average
of 29, 32, and 36 children per class, respectively. With respect to the
higher grades, while Ministry rules require between 22 and 26 children
per class in grades 5 to 12, this school has an average of 36, 38, 29,
34, 41, and 39 children per class in grades 5 to 10. In grades 11 and
12, there are only 26 and 16 students in the entire grade, respectively,
clear evidence of the very high dropout rate suffered by Romani
students.

Educational achievements in these segregated schools are much lower than
in integrated schools. In academic testing conducted by specialists
from the Regional Inspectorate on Education, the results of the children
in Roma-only schools are significantly lower than those of children in
mixed and Bulgarian schools. For example, in math tests, 18 out of 19
Romani students attending an integrated school did well, as did 27 out
of 28 ethnic Bulgarian students. By contrast, in a segregated Roma-only
school, only 3 out of 18 did well. In the 75th School, out of 121 Romani
students tested, only 16 performed the math test well. Even after 12
years of education, some of the Romani children in the 75th school could
not write a basic sentence in Bulgarian.

“As a result of the inferior education they receive, these students are
ill-prepared to compete in the labor market and unable to meet the
requirements of University exams,” said lead attorney Alexander
Kashimov. “The stigma of segregation leads to feelings of low
self-esteem, a lack of self-confidence, and emotional distress. The
message of inferiority is one they will carry for the rest of their
lives.”

These actions by state and local authorities and the Roma-only schools
violate the Bulgarian Law on Education and the Bulgarian constitution as
well as international treaties incorporated into Bulgarian law by the
constitution. These include the European Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the International Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the UNESCO
Convention against Discrimination in Education, the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights.

This case is one of several challenges to illegal segregation brought by
the European Roma Rights Center before both domestic and international
courts. A case against the Czech Republic based on the
disproportionately high placement of Romani children in schools for the
mentally retarded is currently pending before the European Court of
Human Rights, and the ERRC announced last week the filing of an action
against Croatia based upon segregated Roma-only classrooms in regular
schools before the European Court.

Further information on the human rights situation of Roma in Bulgaria is 
available on: http://www.errc.org/publications/indices/bulgaria.shtml

Further information on the plight of education of Romani children in Europe 
is available on:
http://errc.org/publications/position/education.shtml

_____________________________________________

The European Roma Rights Center is an international public interest law
organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence
in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the European
Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC on the web at http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Center
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P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary


Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax:   +36 1 4132201

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