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Tuesday, June 8, 1999 Published at 22:28 GMT 23:28 UK

World: Europe

Czech gypsies in school row

By Ray Furlong in Prague

Gypsies in the Czech Republic have announced they are going to take legal action against the authorities for denying their children the right to education by sending them to schools for the mentally retarded.

The gypsies, or Romanies, as they prefer to be called, say their children are sent to the schools on the basis of psychological tests which do not take into account their cultural differences from other Czech children.

The 15 gypsy families, all living in the north-eastern city of Ostrava, say the Education Ministry is violating the charter of basic rights and freedoms contained in the Czech constitution.

Vicious circle

They are acting with Markus Pape, a German journalist who campaigns on gypsy issues.

He said gypsy children in Ostrava were 27 times more likely to attend what is called a special school, catering for the mentally handicapped, than their other Czech counterparts, but it is not only in Ostrava.

Throughout the Czech Republic, gypsy children are far more likely to attend special schools. This is seen as one of the factors leaving gypsies in a vicious circle of low education, unemployment, and social alienation.


Mr Pape said the psychological tests used to determine which school children go to do not take into account cultural and linguistic differences between gypsy children and their Czech counterparts.

For example, some gypsies do not speak pure Czech at home, instead using a pidgin variety, mixing Czech with the old Romany language of their forefathers. This causes gypsy children great problems at school.

The gypsy families also said the system contained no checks and balances to protect their children against simple racism, and this highlights another problem - the atmosphere of deep distrust between gypsy parents and local education authorities.

Reacting to the news of the lawsuit, a local education official in Ostrava said the gypsy families concerned had made no attempt to get their children transferred to regular schools.

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