The history of school desegregation for Roma

Margareta Matache and Simona Barbu


School segregation is a prevailing reality across Europe for Romani children and removes any chance of further education and educational accomplishments from those who attend such provision. The quality of education in segregated schools and classes is far lower than that in mainstream schools1, whilst Romani children are prevented from accessing opportunities to build reliable networks and acquire social capital. Moreover, the rights and dignity of Romani children are harmed, as whatever the various justifications used for segregating Romani children, the crux of the matter is a deeply embedded notion of Roma inferiority and non-Romani superiority or gadjo-ness.

Over the past few decades, Romani organizations and activists have persistently advocated for changes in policy, practice, and legislation to end school segregation, with the support of various allies. Romani families and their children have joined in these efforts (as did Denise Holubova and seventeen others, to pursue the case of DH & Others vs. the Czech Republic) and have raised their voices to demand their right to equal, inclusive education.

Desegregation tactics employed by both Roma and pro-Roma organizations and groups, including busing and establishing local networks of human rights monitors, have proved to be creative and efficient in the short run, but unsustainable and not sufficient in the longer-term. Moreover, in national courts and at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the discriminatory nature of the segregation of Romani children, in so-called ‘special’ schools, ‘practical’ schools or in Roma-only classes and schools, has been made clear. Such decisions have improved legislation and policy-making, but had far less impact on segregationist practices, despite the infringement proceedings by the European Commission against the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. One out of every ten Romani children on average is still placed in a special school or class that is mainly for Roma2.