• May 3, 2023
  • 213

Criteria for school reorganisation set by the government contradict the Lithuanian Constitution

Criteria for school reorganisation set by the government contradict the Lithuanian Constitution

On Wednesday, 26 April, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court ruled: legal regulations on the part of the government regarding the criteria, which the local government comprehensive schools must meet, are contrary to the Lithuanian Constitution.

“The Constitutional Court has clearly ruled that the government and the Ministry of Education have largely exceeded their powers,” – comments MP Beata Pietkiewicz.

The Constitutional Court referred to the request of a group of 57 parliamentarians. They asked the Constitutional Court to examine whether the criteria set by the government, on which the reorganisation or dissolution of local government schools depends, are in line with the Constitution. The document submitted last year was signed by parliamentarians from the opposition: “Peasants”, Social Democrats, Union of Democrats and other factions. It was also signed by Polish MPs: Beata Pietkiewicz, Rita Tamašunienė, Czesław Olszewski.

Violation of the idea of self-government

“I consider the decision of the Constitutional Court, which ruled on the violation of self-governance, to be just,” said MP Beata Pietkiewicz in an interview with Kurier Wileński. “According to the law on self-governance, it is the local government that must decide the rules of operation and the fate of a self-governing school, where and how it can operate. It is the local government that best knows the needs of the population, knows the number of children in the local area and knows how many children it is able to educate. Top-down governmental regulation on such an important issue is really bad for the idea of self-government. The Constitutional Court has clearly ruled that the government and the Ministry of Education have largely overstepped their competencies” comments Beata Pietkiewicz.

What is needed now, she says, is a change in the criteria applied to schools, e.g. regarding the minimum number of pupils (in the infamous decree of the Ministry of Education, those schools with fewer than 60 pupils are subject to reorganisation – editor’s note), which are significant not only for self-governing minority schools, but also for private educational establishments working as associations.

Considering the specifics

Commenting on the decision of the Constitutional Court, Head of the Department of Education and Sports of the Administration of the Šalčininkai Region Self-Government Regina Markiewicz says that the local government has always drawn the attention of decision-makers to the specifics of the region and to the fact that groups and classes must not be completed according to the principle proposed by the Ministry of Education.

“Regional differences and the possibilities of a particular local government must be taken into account when creating a school network. Each local government in Lithuania has its own specifics and different conditions. The Vilnius region surrounds Vilnius, while we are a border-adjacent region. In addition, we have minority schools, which we will never complete in sufficient measure, outlined from above. As we did not agree with the imposed completion of classes, the case went to court. Now the Constitutional Court has ruled that the government violated the Constitution when it adopted the regulation on the laws for the creation of school networks. This confirms that this is a real problem that needs to be solved. 139 schools in Lithuania have completed classes smaller than required in the 2022-2023 school year. A similar situation exists in 50 local governments, but we were the only ones accused,” points out Regina Markiewicz.

Criteria need to be reconsidered

“The decision of the Constitutional Court means, in practice, that all the criteria that were supposed to come into force in January 2024, especially the quantitative ones – e.g. how many students can be in classes, whether these classes can be combined, when they can be combined – will not come into force for the time being. This means that minority schools that belonged to local authorities will be governed by the previous rules for the time being. There will be no need to close these schools if they do not comply with the new criteria set by the government, which the Constitutional Court has declared unconstitutional.” comments Dr Katarzyna Bogdziewicz, a lecturer at the Michal Römer University in Vilnius.

“I assess the decision of the Constitutional Court positively. We are talking here about national minority schools, however, the proposed changes have also been criticised in other regions of Lithuania, where society is indeed depopulating and where closing a school or closing a gymnasium and leaving only a primary school would lead to depopulation. For example, if a school in Neringa was closed, only tourists would remain there, as families would leave. Surely these criteria should be reconsidered from scratch and adopted in an appropriate legal act,” points out Dr Katarzyna Bogdziewicz.

Constitutional Court ruling

“The rules for reorganising the network of local government schools, when the criteria are set by the government, are unconstitutional,” the Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday.

The Constitutional Court also declared the provisions specifying the formal (quantitative) requirements that the local government comprehensive schools must meet unconstitutional.

The Constitutional Court said that the right of local governments to decide on the network of schools is not unlimited, but the Education Act must set out clear criteria, and only then can they be concretised in the regulations established by the government.

“The Constitutional Court emphasised that only after the criteria required to be met by schools providing general education programmes have been established through the Education Act can the meaning of the individual criteria be specified in post-statutory legal acts, among others in regulations approved by the government,”  says Wednesday’s court ruling.

The Constitutional Court declared section 1.2.4 unconstitutional (Early childhood schools, progymnasiums or secondary education schools with fewer than 60 pupils shall be reorganised or liquidated, with the exception of non-state schools, child socialisation centres, and special education centres. It is recommended that schools in which the general education curriculum is implemented in the same language of instruction be joined or merged), 1.2.26 (In secondary education schools (…) at least two secondary education grades III shall be established, except in cases where one secondary education grade III may be established). Sections 1.2.41, 1.2.42, 1.2.42, 1.2.43 of Government Resolution No. 1110 of 22 December 2021, the effective date of which has been postponed, also contradict the Constitution.

This resolution of the Constitutional Court is to be implemented on 2 January 2024 in order not to disrupt the educational process and to give the Parliament time to eliminate the contradiction.

Ministry of Education: correction needed

The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport referred to the court ruling in a press release. “The Ministry has complied with the legal regulation that has been in force since 1 July 2011. It has been followed by all governments. The Constitutional Court ruled that the basic criteria must be determined by law, while the detailed criteria must already be determined by government resolutions. In order for the government’s decision to be in line with the Constitution, it will be necessary to revise the provisions of the Education Act.” – the report informs.

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

Related post

White-and-red march through Vilnius and a rally in schools’ defence. ‘Poles want normalcy’.

A two thousandth white-and-red march passed through the streets of Vilnius on Saturday, March 23. Participants…

Issues of Polish education have been raised in front of parents and teachers.

The discussion on current issues in Polish education in Lithuania was initiated by the Forum of…

Polish language teachers face new challenges. How to adjust learning Polish language to the needs of…

The Faculty of Philology of Vilnius University held a scientific and educational workshop for school youth…