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Who’s behind the wall?

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It is calm today but some weeks ago the entrance into one of grey school buildings in Kladno had to be guarded by policemen. The tension that had a potential of turning into open conflict was caused by the fact that students of a private secondary school share a building with the pupils of special primary school catering for the children from local poor Romani areas. The fuse detonated in February when the pupils and students started to use the same entrance. Soon, the trouble started: according to the witnesses, racist comments were uttered on one side while spitting took place on the other. Neither teachers, nor public servants managed to come up with a better idea than to strictly separate the naughty kids. Now they promise that the separation is not final and that they want to learn to co-exist in one school.

Who started it?
Two worlds that normally never meet came together in that school building. There is a private secondary school where the pupils in their first year get a backpack with a notebook and learn with the help of the internet. And just next door you get a primary and practical school where mentally handicapped children go together with the children from socially excluded localities (majority of whom or Romani). It seemed as though the co-existence of the primary and secondary schools would not pose any problems as long as the kids were using separate entrances that where far away from each other.

Primary school pupils lost their entrance this year in February due to reconstruction and so they started to use the secondary school entrance. Trouble was waiting around the corner. Secondary school students say that the pupils begged for cigarettes, told them to “get lost” and spat on one girl’s backpack. “They would not leave us alone for a second. When we were playing football they would be hanging from the fence shouting that they will chase us out,” one of the secondary school students said outside on the pitch. It is difficult to talk to the other side since the special school pupils do not want to talk to the journalists. Regional newspaper wrote in April that the students swore at the pupils with racially charged words. Nobody wants to confirm that today but the atmosphere in school can be guessed at from the comment of one of the students during the journalist visit, claiming that “this problem can only be solved by gas”. What remains important today is that only the special school pupils were investigated (one pupil received a lower behaviour mark). Nobody from the school management (or the parents) paid any heed to the suspicion of students using racially charged swearwords.

The only official reaction was the separation of the children. “We made a mistake,” head of the private secondary school EDUCAnet Renata Matoušková said. “Me and my colleague from the other school should have done something straight away, ” she said. “We are new here and I did not want us to seem like the snobs who complain. I only ordered my students not to react to the attacks,” the headmistress said. Nobody investigated the claim that her students are racist because nobody filed an official complaint.

At least there is calm
This strategy, however, did not last. Matoušková started to ask for a quick solution after two months when her students started to call police at the pupils and media started to show interest in the case. “The time of the entrance exams was approaching and such an interest damages us as a private school,” she said.

The solution was reached after Milan Němec, regional education representative of Central Bohemia, visited both schools. He decided that the entrances will be separate again and that the reconstruction will take place during the summer holidays even though that meant that the pupils had to walk to school on broken tiles. This is proving difficult especially for the wheelchair bound children since they need special help getting to school. “It is a problem but at least we got peace,” said Hana Tomanová, headmistress of the primary school.

“The entrance separation is only temporary solution, it does not deal with the heart of the matter,” said Milan Němec. “We keep on talking about multicultural co-existence in this country. Those two schools could have taken advantage of being so close long time ago to start a cooperation. Unfortunately, management of both schools failed,” he said. Kladno Mayor Dan Jiránek, who is also responsible for the education department of the town, has an identical view of the problem. “This conflict can only be solved by a closer cooperation of both schools,” he said.

Thanks to the help of people from the Kladno branch of People in need, who take care of those from socially excluded areas, the both headmistresses met at the same table for the first time. “We offered to operate as a mediator since the primary school participates in one of our programmes. It is therefore in our own interest to solve the problem fast,” said Milan Greineder, head of the branch.

The agreement is this: any potential conflicts between the pupils and students need to be addresses immediately by both schools so as to make clear what they stem from. People from People in need put together some sort of a timetable of the two schools coming together. The first meeting should take place at the end of May when the primary school teachers will explain to the secondary school students how they work with the pupils and what does it mean to come from the socially excluded locality. People in need would like to help organising common activities such as sport matches or school festivals.

Whether it will work remains unclear. “I would certainly welcome cooperation,” said Hana Tomanová, the primary school head. “I would like the students help our pupils with studying, for example,” she said. “We will see,” the headmistress Matoušková does not hide the scepticism. “We have enough of our own activities such as study stays and visits abroad. I do not know if we will find time for some closer cooperation.”

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