Inclusion Europe: “We are desperate” – Students with disabilities left without solution as pupils return to school
Wanting to get an education, but not receiving it: this is the sad reality for tens of thousands of children and teenagers with intellectual disabilities in Europe, according to Inclusion Europe, an organisation advocating for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities. As the term begins in most European countries, pupils with intellectual disabilities still have not found a school which would accept them, are ostracised in “special schools” or only allowed to attend at reduced hours. The situation is now being called out in countries such as France and Ireland, while reports of violence and abuse continue not being dealt with in Romania.
According to the European Centre for the Rights of Children with Disabilities, in Romania, over 31,000 children with disabilities are segregated in 176 special schools, and nearly 18,000 receive no education at all. Most of those who do attend school are victims of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by teachers and support staff including beatings, sedations, prone restraint etc. Despite high numbers of registered criminal complaints (in 30% of Romanian counties), so far no action has been taken by the government.
Romania is not the only country facing problems when it comes to inclusion at school.
“The waiting period is 4 years”
In France, parents and students have started opening up about the stumbling blocks put in their way on the website marentree.org; the platform gathers testimonies of students with disabilities and their parents, and speaks about “thousands of French children with a disability who cannot go to school like others”. For example, Evangelline, 7 years, who has an intellectual disability in addition to autism and ADHD. She does not attend school: “Evangelline is on the waiting list for a special school. But the waiting period is 4 years, and the school has told us that it would be a complex task for them to receive our daughter.”
A parent of Abdoul Rahmane, 16 years, who has Down syndrome and autism, explains: “He stays at home with me without any care since kindergarten where I had to fight for his integration. […] We are desperate.”
In Ireland, on the other hand, the widespread “reduced timetable” system may breach children’s constitutional rights, according to organisations such as Inclusion Ireland which have recently started campaigning on the issue. The situation affects children of travellers and many children with special needs. Within the system, children may be considered “present” even if they only attend school for one hour or less, and the practice is “neither reported nor recorded”. The issue is currently under examination – but until further action is taken, children continue to be put on a reduced timetable to manage behavioural issues or when schools see themselves unable to meet their needs.
Inclusion at school: often not well executed
Other examples from Norway, Finland or Lithuania show that inclusion at school is often not well executed, with a lack of resources and training preventing pupils from accessing the school closest to them, forcing them to attend only part-time or opt for a special school which may be far away from their family. “The right to education is clearly stated in Article 24 of the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, explains Jyrki Pinomaa, President of Inclusion Europe. “Any restriction of this right is a direct violation of the UN CRPD.” Inclusion Europe asks all European countries to allocate the necessary resources so all pupils can attend the school of their choice, without being discriminated against because of their disability.