- February 18, 2020
Pabradė schools merger is off the table
The school community of Žeimenos Secondary School in Pabradė may breathe a sigh of relief. The local government of the Švenčionys District decided to abandon the project of a merger between the Lithuanian-language Ryto Secondary School and the Polish-Russian Žeimenos School in Pabradė on the scheduled date of 1st September 2020. The editors of Kurier Wileński were informed about this decision by the local authorities.
Last autumn, the Polish community of Pabradė in the Švenčionys District was appalled by the news of the planned merger of schools in their town. Local authorities intended to transform the Polish-Russian Žeimenos Secondary School into a branch of the nearby Lithuanian-language Ryto School. Both teachers and parents were afraid that combining two schools with different languages of instruction will lead to the end of the Polish school, which in time would be dominated and simply absorbed by Lithuanian classes, as was the case in the Širvintos region.
‘This is an attempt to Lithuanize students, an attempt to assimilate the Polish community in these areas’, deputy principal of the Žeimenos Secondary School in Pabradė Anna Łastowska commented on the situation. Žeimenos’ school community strongly opposed the merger by e.g. sending letters to the highest state and educational authorities – to presidents of both countries, ministries of education, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Vilnius, the Department of National Minorities at the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, the Mayor of the Švenčionys District Government, and the Association Polish School Teachers in Lithuania ‘Macierz Szkolna’. The Polish media in Lithuania also devoted a lot of attention to the problem, including our dialy (article ‘Žeimenos Secondary School in Pabradė: reorganization or Lithuanization?’, No. 6 of Kurier Wileński Magazine from 8th-14th February 2020).
Teachers and parents doubted, in particular, the merits of merging two large schools with fully complete classes. ‘Our institution is large, has over 360 students. Over 400 students study at the Ryto Secondary School. What is the point of merging two large schools?’ – asked the principal of Žeimenos school Edita Meškovienė. The argument that the reorganization would contribute to improving the quality of teaching – while reducing the number of auxiliary teachers’ posts – seemed ridiculous.
While preparing an article on the reorganization of secondary schools in Pabradė for the Kurier Wileński Magazine, we sent an e-mail inquiry to the mayor of the Švenčionys District Council, Rimantas Klipčius, asking him to justify the plans of merging the two schools. The letter from the editor, dated 22nd January 2020, received a response from the local government on 12th February 2020, after the publication. As reported in the official letter, for now, [the council] abstained from merging the two schools.
Below we publish the content of the letter sent by the Švenčionys Local Government.
‘A working group set up within the Švenčionys Local Government analyzed the results of the implementation of the plan for the reorganization of the general education network in the years 2016-20, as well as the changes that took place in schools and their environment during the years of its implementation. Assessing the current state of the network of educational institutions in the local government, as well as solutions that need to be taken to improve teaching results to reasonably use of both state and local government budget funds, to provide better educational services for students, the working group considered many possibilities of reorganizing schools in all cities of the region – both in Švenčionys and in Švenčionėliai or Pabradė’ – this is how the local government justifies the need to reorganize the facilities.
As one of the options for the reorganization of the school network, the possibility of joining the two secondary schools in Pabradė was taken into account – as acknowledged in the letter. ‘While preparing the final conclusions, in order to clarify the acceptability of the regulations of the prepared project for the school community, in early December a meeting was held between the parents of the Žeimenos Secondary School in Pabradė and teachers of both schools, during which the benefits and timeliness of such an action were discussed. After assessing both the materials at hand, as well as the proposals and concerns of the Pabradė community of educational institutions, it was decided not to forward [the project] for consideration of the institutions nor to approve the project of merging the Ryto and Žeimenos secondary schools in Pabradė from 1st September 2020 in the local council.’ – informed the written reply.
The letter also added that ‘none of the options for the possible reorganization consider a change of the language of instruction or a reduction of the number of classes with the Polish/Russian language. The local government does not question the expectations of parents who want their children to enjoy the right to education in the language of the national minority provided in the Education Act of the Republic of Lithuania’.
The Žeimenos Secondary School in Pabradė is currently the only school with the Polish language of instruction in the Švenčionys District in Lithuania. The institution teaches in the Polish and Russian in grades 1 to 12. Currently, 367 pupils study there. Next year, the school will celebrate its 70th anniversary. Poles in Pabradė constitute almost half of the [town’s] population, their percentage according to the 2011 census is estimated at 45 percent. Lithuanians account for 27 percent of the population, Russians – 19 percent.
Translated by Marta Bednarczyk within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.