BRATISLAVA – On 27 October 2015, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment and ruled for the first time in Slovakia that children with disabilities are entitled to inclusive education. In the case (nr. 7Sžo/83/2014), the Court ruled that the right to inclusive education in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities takes precedence over national laws that segregate children with special needs from their non-disabled friends.
The judgment has significance for over 20,000 children with disabilities in the country who are denied inclusive education and instead forced into separate special schools.
Ela is 10-year old and has an intellectual disability and a hearing impairment. She lives in Bratislava, Slovakia with her parents who wanted her to study at the local mainstream primary school. In 2013, the school refused to enroll Ela saying they could not cope with her disabilities, a decision backed by the local government. Ela’s parents lost a legal appeal and took their case to the Supreme Court. The case was litigated by Maroš Matiaško, a human rights lawyer and the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre.
In its judgment, the Slovak Supreme Court used international law to confirm that Ela has the right to be provided with the individualised support she needs to be educated alongside her peers in a mainstream school. In a powerful statement in favour of inclusion, the Court, quoting an expert opinion, said:
“The presence of children with a disability in a group of healthy children is mutually enriching for both parties. Children learn empathy and acceptance of differences. Such an opportunity will provide the claimant with new patterns of behaviour and enables her a superior development of her mental capabilities.”
The Court also found that denial of support to enable Ela to access mainstream education could amount to unlawful discrimination which breached international law. The ruling is of significance to over 20,000 children with disabilities in Slovakia who end up placed in segregated educational provision, cut off from their peers, families and communities, and substantially damaging their life chances.
Commenting on the judgment, Maroš Matiaško, said:
“The decision of the Slovakia Supreme Court underlines the right to inclusive education as fundamental for all children with disabilities, explicitly ruling that the CRPD imposes an obligation on schools and authorities to provide individualised support for such people. School segregation must now be consigned to history.”
Oliver Lewis, MDAC’s CEO, pointed out that the judgment is of global significance:
“This judgment is a wake-up call for Slovakia and for countries around the world that segregate children with disabilities, or from ethnic minorities, into special schools that start them on a tragectory of social exclusion, unemployment, ill-health and poverty. The morally correct approach is inclusion. International human rights law demands it, the Sustainable Development Goals encourage it, and the Slovak Supreme Court has now ordered it.”
The judgment comes after increasing domestic and international scrutiny of Slovakia’s poor record of ensuring the rights of children with disabilities. Earlier in October, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks criticised the very high levels of educational segregation in Slovakia, calling on the country to come up with “clear plans for the transfer of children with disabilities from special to mainstream education”. Also in October, the Regional Court in Bratislava criticised local authorities for withholding in-home support to a 4-year-old girl with profound multiple disabilities, placing her at risk of separation from her parents and into an institution.
In March next year, Slovakia will have its disability rights record scrutinised at the UN (see a report by a coalition of NGOs here). MDAC now calls on the Government of Slovakia to give significantly higher priority to abolishing educational segregation, and ensuring a framework of inclusive education for all children.