DOES SEPARATING ROMANI SCHOOLCHILDREN IN FRANCE VIOLATE THE EQUALITY PRINCIPLE OR ESTABLISH ETHNIC DISCRIMINATION?
In 2013 several Romani families living in an informal settlement in Ris-Orangis (Essonne) made a formal request for school enrolment of 12 children. The mayor created a separated class for these children in an isolated room in a sport centre without any connection with any regular school instead of enrolling them in schools located in that municipality. The geographical proximity with the children’s living area as well as the need of evaluation of children’s school level were the bad pretext emphasized by the mayor trying to justify this discriminatory measure.
The families together with several NGOs referred to the Administrative Court of Versailles, asking it to cancel the measure taken by the mayor. Moreover the French Ombudsman provided observations in support of this request. With its judgement of the Administrative Court of Versailles recognised the illegality of this separated class based on ignorance of the principle for equal access to public services in the field of education.
In fact the court noted that these children are “exclusively Romanian citizens of Roma ethnic origin”, separated by the other children enrolled in primary or middle schools in the municipality, and denied access to services related to education, were put in a situation less propitious than the other pupils enrolled in regular schools in the municipality.
We appreciate the court’s action recalling the legal obligations that local authorities have in the field of access to education especially while Roma children or those designated as such, living in slums and squats, are often denied access to education.
Highlighting the fact that the children targeted by this specific measure are “Romanian citizens of Roma ethnic origin”, the court itself emphasizes the main criterion leading to this adverse treatment imposed to these children, aiming to isolate them through a specific educational measure and in the same time the court evaded the discriminatory dimension of this practice.
Thus, the Administrative court did not take into consideration the European court for Human rights case-law according to which “the discrimination of a person based especially on the ethnic origin is a form of racial discrimination […] particularly reprehensible, which requires special vigilance and vigorous reaction from the authorities in view of its dangerous consequences”.