• December 1, 2015
  • 293

The Lelewel school community keeps fighting in courts

In November 2015 the District Administrative Court in Vilnius decided not to help Joachim Lelewel Secondary School, also known as the famous “school number five”.  On 30th November, the school community lodged an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania.

The parents of the pupils appealed against the decision of the Vilnius City Council to transform Joachim Lelewel Secondary School into Joachim Lelewel School by means of closing the branch of the school at 3 Minties Street. What is more, the school is obliged to move from Antakalnis to the building at Minties Street and the historic school building at 33 Antakalnis Street is to be returned to the city.

The City Council “suggests” that the building be used by the Antakalnis Pro-Gymnasium with Lithuanian as the language of instruction. This means that there will be no Polish schools in the sizeable district of Antakalnis because the new building is going to move to the district of Žirmūnai beyond the Neris river. “Due to the decision made by the Council, the distribution of Polish school is uneven.” – we read in the parents’ appeal.

-“I think that the District Administrative Court did not take into consideration all of the arguments of the parents” – said the municipal councillor from the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL), Edita Tamošiūnaitė. –“ The Lelewel school in Antakalnis attracts students from 249 streets and also from the outskirts of the city, like Dworczany or Antowil. What is more important, among the commuters are the children from the kindergarten and pre-school groups. After the move, their journey to school is going to be much longer. The school, especially in the kindergarten and pre-school period, should be as close to a pupil’s home as possible.”

In the appeal, its proponents emphasized the fact that so far, the school had two buildings: the primary one in Antakalnis and the branch building in Žirmūnai. According to the decision of the Vilnius City Council, the school is obliged to use only the building in Zirmunai.

-“The school in Žirmūnai is not ready to accommodate so many pupils.” – said the councillor. –“The building at Antakalnis Street is fully occupied by the pupils, and besides, the school, sympathetic to the needs of the Lithuanian Antakalnis Pro-Gymnasium, decided to allow them to use some of their classrooms. The building at Minties Street also houses the Youth School “Gijos” and somehow nobody is going to evict them.”

Additionally, the school supporters wrote that the building at Minties Street is not able to house 502 pupils. The building is only able to accommodate 452 of them and does not fulfil all of the criteria concerning classroom equipment.

-“Initially, the city budget did not allocate any sum to make the branch building appropriate for the Gymnasium.” – said Edita Tamošiūnaitė. –“But even if the building was renovated, a six- or seven-year-old’s commute should not be 20 kilometres long or take 1.5 hour to get through the whole city. It is about safety and comfort of the learning process.”

She also said that in Antakalnis there are several schools with the language of instruction being Lithuanian: the elementary school, the Antakalnis Pro-Gymnasium, the Antakalnis Gymnasium and the M. Daukšos Gymnasium.

The parents also pointed out that despite the obligation, the Council had not asked the school community or other interested parties for their opinion concerning such an important decision and disregarded the request of the Ministry of Education and Science not to approve the decision to move the school.

The applicants complained that the Council had accepted the decision too hastily and that is why they want the ruling of the lower court and the decision of the Vilnius City Council dated 15th July 2015 to be repealed.

The Polish school community is not going to give up and should they exhaust the legal measures in Lithuania, they plan to fight for justice in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

-“The decision of the Council is nonsensical, all the facts are on our side.” – said the director of the School Defence Committee, Beata Bartoszewicz, a mum of a 4th grader at Joachim Lelewel Secondary School. Ms Bartoszewicz, herself a former pupil, like her mother and grandmother before her, said: “We have lodged an appeal and now we are waiting for the decision. I am sure that we are going to use all legal measures possible and we ask all institutions possible to help us to overrule the decision of the Council. Some people say it is like fighting windmills but I believe we should fight until the end.”

Translated by Natalia Skowronek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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