Two students in front of the "good" building of 2nd Auxiliary School in Sofia. Photo by Nadezhda Chipeva, copied from the site of Capital weekly.I watched this story unfolding on TV news last year but unfortunately hadn't the opportunity to blog about it in real time. The Mogilino blog reports it properly and Bulgarian readers can go directly there. I'll translate now the most important moments.
In October 2008, Bulgaria lost in court after the Mental Disability Advocacy Center filed a complaint in early 2007. "Bulgaria is de facto depriving disabled children of their right to education. This was announced by the European Committee of Social Rights... The Committee found evidence that the Bulgarian government failed to provide education for up to 3,000 children with intellectual disabilities living in so-called ‘homes for mentally disabled children’. Only a small percentage of these children attend school, and the educational programmes carried out inside the institutions do not actually constitute education. Schools and their personnel are not ready to satisfy the needs of disabled children, and government does nothing to solve the problem." The story is reported in more detail in English at the Mental Disability Advocacy Center site under the title Bulgaria: right to education.
So much about the fate of those disabled children who are wards of state. What about the others who haven't been abandoned by their parents? In Bulgaria, most children with milder forms of mental retardations are educated in special, so-called auxiliary schools. I don't want to discuss here the controversy of educating disabled children in segregated vs. inclusive settings; I believe, however, that even the most passionate opponents of special education will agree that it is better than nothing and shouldn't be dismantled if this means simply throwing the kids out into the street. However, this is exactly what happened in my city of Sofia.
Let me translate the Sept. 26 Mogilino post Suspicious maneuvre of the Ministry of Education: "Capital weekly reports that the Ministry of Education wants to merge 5th and 2nd Auxiliary Schools in Sofia in the building of 2nd Auxiliary school because this building was allegedly better. At the site of Capital, you can see the damaged surface and the unkept yard of the "better building". You cannot see how it looks inside, because the Capital reporters haven't been let in, similarly to those of NTV channel before. It is noteworthy that the (building and land of) 2nd Auxiliary School is in the process of being returned to its rightful owners while the land of 5th Auxiliary School has been donated specifically to build a school. It seems that somebody wants very much the land of 5th Auxiliary School."
The story is continued in the Oct. 5 post Children in wheelchairs need not come: "Fifth Auxiliary School was closed last week by the Ministry of Education, against the law. The children were moved to the building of 2nd Auxiliary School, which for most of them means travelling additional 15 km in either direction. The Ministry promised transport for all (72) students but in reality provided a bus with only 8 seats. Children in wheelchairs were told that they didn't need to come to the new school because there was no way for them to be transported to it and the building itself wasn't accessible, wheelchairs couldn't even pass through its front door. A desperate mother wrote this letter which was published at the Capital site." (In it, the mother describes the illegal action of authorities, refuses to let her son be educated in awful conditions and vows to leave work in order to homeschool him.)
I watched the continuation of the story on TV news: Indeed, many parents of children formerly educated at 5th Auxiliary School refused to send them to 2nd Auxiliary School - either because it was not wheelchair-accessible or, in some cases, because parents feared it could collapse any moment. In a Catch 22-like turn, authorities accused these parents in depriving their children of education (!) and threatened them with punishments.