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Spain violated the inclusive education right of a child with disabilities, UN Committee finds

GENEVA (21 September 2020) - Spain violated the right to inclusive education of a child with Down syndrome who was sent to a special education centre by national authorities, despite his parents’ objections, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has found.

In its first decision on the right to inclusive education, the Committee concluded that Spain failed to assess the child’s specific requirements and to take reasonable steps that could have allowed him to remain in mainstream education. Thus the State party failed to fulfil its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The child, Rubén, was in a mainstream school in León. With the support of a special education assistant, he had good relations with his classmates and teachers until 2009 when he entered grade four aged 10. The situation deteriorated and serious allegations of ill-treatment and abuse by his teacher surfaced.

The condition did not improve when Rubén entered grade five. His new class teacher did not consider that he needed a special education assistant and only after his parents complained was he allowed to have one.

However, Rubén began to exhibit difficulties in learning and with school life. A school report noted what it termed Rubén’s “disruptive behaviour”, “psychotic outbreaks” and “developmental delay associated with Down syndrome”. In June 2011, the Provincial Directorate of Education authorized Rubén’s enrolment in a special education centre in the face of his parents’ objections.

Rubén’s parents denounced the abuses he suffered before domestic judicial authorities, but no effective investigation was conducted. His parents also unsuccessfully challenged the education authority’s decision to enrol him in a special education centre. Furthermore, the authorities brought criminal charges against the parents for their refusal to send their child to a specialized school.

Rubén and his father eventually took their case to the Committee in 2017.

After examining the allegations presented by both sides, the Committee concluded that Spain violated Rubén’s right to inclusive education.

“It does not appear that the State party’s authorities have carried out a thorough assessment or an in-depth, detailed study of his educational needs and the reasonable accommodations that he would have required to be able to continue attending a mainstream school,” said Committee member Markus Schefer.

The Committee requested that Spain ensures Rubén, who is currently in a private special education centre for students with special needs, is admitted to an inclusive vocational training programme; that he is given compensation, and that his allegations of abuse are effectively investigated.

Among other recommendations, the Committee also urged Spain to eliminate any educational segregation of students with disabilities in both special education schools and specialised units within mainstream schools, and to ensure that parents of students with disabilities are not prosecuted for claiming their children’s right to inclusive education.

The full decision by the Committee is now available online

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For media enquiries, please contact Vivian Kwok at +41 (0) 22 917 9362/ vkwok@ohchr.org or UN Human Rights Office Media Section at +41 (0) 22 928 9855/ media@ohchr.org .

Background

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities monitors States parties’ adherence to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which to date has 182 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Committee’s views and decisions on individual communications are an independent assessment of States’ compliance with their human rights obligations under the Convention.

Learn more with our animations on the Treaty Body system and on the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities!

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