Romani Children Denied Enrolment in Bulgarian Schools
07 November 2002
The Sofia-based non-governmental organisation Romani Baht reported that at least fifteen Romani first-graders were denied enrolment in three schools in Sofia during the period September 1 to 16, 2002, prior to the beginning of the school year. The enrolment of several dozens of Romani children in integrated schools in Sofia began in the autumn of 2002 as part of Romani Baht's programme for desegregation of the Roma-only school in the Fakulteta Romani neighbourhood in Sofia. Romani Baht reported that while some Romani parents were successful in enrolling their children in integrated schools, at least three schools – No. 17 Damian Gruev, No. 28 Aleko Konstantinov, and No. 123 Stefan Stambolov – refused to enrol Romani children. The three schools were reportedly chosen by the Romani parents because of their close proximity to the Fakulteta neighbourhood, while one of the schools, No. 17, offered intensive French language education.
Administrators at the three schools reportedly obstructed the filing of enrolment applications by the parents of the fifteen Romani children. According to Romani Baht, school guards prevented Romani parents from entering the school premises on several occasions. On other occasions, Romani parents were allowed into the school buildings only to be forced to leave by school personnel before they could submit applications for enrolment. Eventually, the Romani parents managed to submit applications verbally to the directors of the schools or to authorised teachers, but reportedly received immediate negative verbal responses to their applications. According to Romani Baht, the parents were informed that either the maximum number of children in the respective school had been reached or that the Romani children did not have right to apply to a school outside the municipality where they were registered. Article 9 of the Bulgarian Law on Education provides for the free choice of school, regardless of residence. Field investigation performed by Romani Baht also revealed that, while the Romani parents were prohibited from enrolling their children, non-Romani children had been enrolled without any problems in the meantime.
The parents of all fifteen Romani children submitted complaints to the Administrative Department of the Sofia City Court against the refusal of the school authorities to enrol them. On October 26, 2002, Romani Baht informed the ERRC that the court was still reviewing the complaints filed by the parents.Romani Baht reported that the fifteen Romani children had since been enrolled in other integrated schools, but that the schools were located far from the children's homes.