Stories of prejudice: how discrimination in Czech schools is ruining Romani children's lives
Romani children in the Czech Republic are not getting the education that is their right. They’re bullied just for being different, kept apart from other children and even placed in schools for pupils with ‘mild mental disabilities’. We talk to two Romani children and a mother about how segregation and discrimination is ruining lives.
“They called her black mouth”
Me and my little sister Jana were some of the only Roma kids at our school. I used to think it was a good school, but the other children bullied us, especially Jana.
They pushed her around and called her ‘black mouth’. They told her that she didn’t know anything, that she looked disgusting and stuff like that.
They did everything on purpose. They hid her shoes – it was snowing so I had to bring her home on my back.
Jana was afraid to go to school. My mum made us breakfast and took us to school, but Jana would start crying and throwing hysterical fits. I would cry too. Every day it was like that.
We told the head teacher but she wouldn’t listen to us. So I decided to take care of it myself. I would fight them, but when the teachers found out I was the only one who got told off.
We started getting worse grades, and the teachers would tell everyone that we are dirty and that we smell bad. They even said that Jana didn’t fit in.
That’s when we stopped going to school, pretty much. Eventually, we’d skipped school too many times. The people from social services came and took us away from our family. We’re in a children’s home now.
“They make idiots of us”
I’m from Slovakia. I used to play football at school and won lots of trophies. I dreamed about being a footballer.
When we moved here, I couldn’t speak Czech and found the class difficult. When I failed the class, they sent me to be tested by a psychologist.
They showed me pictures that I had to match together. It felt as if they thought I was an idiot. It was so simple.
They sent me to a ‘practical’ school, but all my friends were there so I wanted to go there too. At least half of the pupils in the school are Roma.
But I didn’t realise it was a school for children with mental disabilities. My grandma didn’t want to send me, but they told her I wouldn’t make it in the normal school.
They make idiots of us at the practical school. It’s really easy. They teach slower and I don’t think I can go to a good high school from here.
“The school refused to accept Romani children”
I just wanted to make sure my sons, Pavel and František, could go to school. I wanted to register them at a nearby mainstream school, but I was refused.
We decided on the school because it was the closest, so we wouldn’t even need to spend money on travel cards.
My sons could come home for lunch and go back to school for their afternoon classes. But then the school said that they don’t want to accept Romani children.
The school said they have documents saying one of my sons, František is mentally disabled. Well, obviously he is not. He had just been put in a practical school before, when I didn’t have custody.
Then they said they didn’t have space for Pavel. The school director arranged the whole thing.
He talked to a school at the other end of the city and they accepted Pavel there. František is at a practical school in the same neighbourhood.
But now they both have to take a bus for 40 minutes, rather than a 10 minute walk. It costs a lot of money.
The school director spoke to our community worker about it. Apparently, the deputy director said: “All the boy needs to learn for life is how to count money to pay in a shop.”
Elena, mother of Romani children