Desegregation effort begins in Bulgaria

On September 15, 2000, around 300 Romani children from the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood began the school year by being bussed to one of the seven mixed regular schools in the town of Vidin, Bulgaria. Nov Pat is a Romani settlement of 10,000-12,000 people located several kilometres outside Vidin. Starting from the school year 2000/2001, Romani children from the settlement have attended non-segregated schools as a result of local and international non-governmental initiatives. According to local sources, around three quarters of the local Nov Pat school population are taking part in the programme.

According to the Vidin-based Romani non-governmental organisation DROM, educational standards in the all-Romani school in Nov Pat are low, due to prejudice on part of the non-Romani teaching staff. Inferior education, coupled with humiliating treatment by teachers, has caused a high drop-out rate and generally poor scholastic achievement among Romani children attending the school.

The desegregation of the Vidin schools was initiated through the efforts of DROM and with the support of the Roma Participation Program of the Open Society Institute in Budapest, Hungary. Two buses rented by DROM drive the Romani children to school in Vidin and back to their own neighbourhood every school day. For those children who used to attend the all-Romani school and are therefore behind in schooling, DROM has organised supplementary classes to help the children catch up with their peers. Representatives of the organisation are in constant contact with the Romani children and monitor their integration in the schools. The enrolment of Romani children in the mixed regular schools in Vidin was preceded by an intensive advocacy campaign among the local Romani and non-Romani communities, educational authorities and the local administration. The local school inspectorate provided significant assistance in ensuring that the Vidin schools accepted appropriate numbers of the children at issue. The Bulgarian Minister of Education Dimitar Dimitrov reportedly stated in September 2000 that the Ministry would support the initiative, without specifying what kind of support the Ministry would offer. The desegregation action is in compliance with the Bulgarian government's commitments under the 1999 Framework Program for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society, which states: "A long-term strategy must be developed for removal of segregated Roma schools in Roma areas and decisive measures taken to ensure free admission of Roma children to the 'normal' schools and prevent segregation of Roma children into separate classes." As of December 2000 the ERRC is not aware of any government-led initiatives to implement desegregation as required by the Framework Program.

(ERRC)

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