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Catch-up school for Roma: a segregation case?

April 27th, 2013

Pundits debate whether a special school for disadvantaged Roma children should be closed down. A liberal commentator believes that Roma families protesting against desegregation entrench their own social exclusion. Conservatives, on the other hand, contend that special attention given to poor Roma children fosters social inclusion.

In 2012, CFCF (Chance For Children Foundation), a Roma rights organization filed a suit claiming that the town of Nyíregyháza and the Greek Catholic Church segregate Roma schoolchildren by operating a special catch-up school in a poor district populated mostly by Roma families. The local council claims that it wants to foster the integration of poor children by offering personalized education from an early age until vocational training. In court, the parties agreed to suspend the trial for six months, in the hope that an agreement about the future status of the special school can be reached in the meantime. According to a report on Index.hu, local Roma families are divided over the school. Some are against closing it down, because their children were teased or discriminated against in mixed classrooms. Others claim that the separate school provides kids with a sub-standard level of education, so they would prefer to send their children to regular town schools.

Victims of segregation often defend their oppressed status. This is what has happened in this case too”, Dóra Ónody-Molnár writes in Népszabadság. The liberal columnist suggests that the Roma families protesting against efforts to have the school closed help thereby to entrench their own segregation and social exclusion.

Liberal Roma-rights activists have little understanding of the specificities of the local context. Instead of helping the Roma, they are waging a doctrinaire and ideological war, Zsombor György suggests in Magyar Nemzet. The pro-government columnist believes that the special school with smaller classes and a bigger teaching staff is more helpful for the social integration of poor Roma than mixed schools. The reactions of Roma parents protesting against the possible closure of the school clearly show that they are also satisfied with it, György remarks.

Konzervatórium writes that the same Roma rights activists in another court case argued against ‘spontaneous segregation’ by claiming that the state should act against segregation even if the Roma themselves support separate schools. The conservative blog finds it absurd that liberal activists ignore the wishes of the very people they claim to help and defend. It is mindless and complacent to believe that the mere mixing of students will in itself help the social inclusion of poor Roma children more than the special attention and quality education they receive in the catch-up school, Konzervatórium contends.

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