Romani Parents Unsuccessful in Enrolling Their Children in Private School in Hungary

Of 101 Romani children who attempted to enroll in the private school in the village of Jászladány, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County, the parents of only five Romani children received enrolment papers from school authorities on August 1, 2003, the official enrolment day (Background information on the controversial school is available on ERRC's Internet website at: Controversial Segregated Private School Approved after Election of Non-Romani Minority Representatives in Hungary.) At around 8:00 AM on August 1, 2003, 12 Romani parents lined up outside the private school in Jászladány in order to enrol their children for the coming school year. According to ERRC research, only the school's cleaning lady was present on the premises and she was not able to provide any information to the Romani parents pertaining to the enrolment procedure scheduled for that day.

The ERRC, which was present on the day in question, found out that a meeting of the school's board of directors was to take place at the Jászladány Mayor's Office that day. Upon arrival at the Mayor's Office, the ERRC representative was informed that the meeting was confidential and was sent away. The door to the Mayor's Office was then slammed shut in the face of Ms Viktória Mohácsi Bernáthné, the Ministerial Commissioner for Equal Opportunities for Children of Roma Origin and in Disadvantageous Positions. The private school in Jászladány has been the topic of much debate since Spring 2002 when local school authorities decided to lease a portion of its premises to a newly established private school allegedly to segregate non-Roma from Roma.

According to the Budapest-based Roma Press Center (RSK), Ms Ibolya Tóth, the principal of the private school, stated that a survey had been conducted in early spring to judge the level of interest in enrolling children in the private school within the community. Local Roma did not complete the surveys because they could not afford the enrolment fees. The survey took place despite the fact that the permit received by the school in September 2002 had been revoked after one day and that the school, at the time, had still not received any permit to operate from September 2003. On July 27, 2003, the school finally received its permit: At this time, 227 children had already expressed interest in attending the school, which reportedly has space for 250 pupils. On the same day, the Budapest-based Open Society Institute (OSI) offered financial support to the parents of 101 Romani children, so parents reportedly submitted written requests to the school, stating that they wished to enrol their children, but were told that there were no spaces available.

The OSI offer would have enabled them to pay the private school's monthly fee of 3,500 Hungarian forints (approximately 14 Euro).

On September 1, 2003, the Hungarian national daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap reported that on opening-day, 207 children started the school year, but none of them were Romani. Ms Tóth explained that the school administration had decided to limit class sizes to 22 students per class and the school did not have the financial means to increase the number of classes. According to Magyar Hírlap, Ms Tóth stated that, if the private school were to receive financial support from the National Roma Minority Self-Government or the Ministry of Education, it would be able to start an additional first grade class.

The Parliamentary Commission for National and Ethnic Minorities' Ombudsman, Mr Jenő Kaltenbach, stated that the private school established in Jászladány was unconstitutional, according to an RSK report of September 16, 2003. Mr Kaltenbach stated that the school should not have received a licence because the basic premise of the school is to discriminate against and segregate the Romani school children in Jászladány, not to enable parents in the town to exercise the right to choose. Mr Kaltenbach's statement came after the Ministry of Education requested that he examine whether legal procedures had been adhered to during the school's enrolment. An employee of the Ministry of Education informed the ERRC in November 2003 that a parliamentary sub-committee to assess segregation in education in Hungary had been established.

(ERRC, Magyar Hírlap, Roma Press Center)

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