Roma children in the Czech Republic were "systematically and wrongly" put in schools for pupils with learning facilities, a European court has heard.
The Czech government said it had difficulties integrating Roma
The 1990s policy led to a disproportionate number of Roma (Gypsy) children in Czech special schools.
The families of 18 Roma children have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to label the policy discriminatory.
Their supporters compare the case to the end of segregation in US schools.
In one region, Ostrava, more than 50% of Roma children were placed in special schools.
"We are claiming that the mere statistical results that show that there is such an overwhelming over-representation of Roma children in special schools - or rather there was at the time in question - is sufficient proof of inferior differential treatment," the group's lawyer, David Strupek, told Radio Prague.
"It practically means that more than 50% of Roma children are mentally deficient, which is a conclusion that cannot be accepted."
"But for their Roma ethnicity, would these children have been treated in the same way?" the group's lawyer Anthony Lester asked the court in Strasbourg, France.
The Czech government has argued that since the schools were not set up specifically for Roma children, the system was not discriminatory.
The government has admitted it has difficulties integrating the Roma community, but said it needed a political solution, not one imposed by a court.