Tag Archives: public schools

National Defense Action Plan for school officials

The other day someone called my attention to a note published on Facebook by Nóra L. Ritók, the legendary founder of the Igazgyöngy Alapítvány (Pearl Foundation). She is the former public school art teacher who became disillusioned with the way her school dealt with disadvantaged, mostly Gypsy children. In 1999 she struck out on her own, establishing art schools in six very poor villages in Hajdú-Bihar megye, close to the Romanian border. She started her work in a so-called cul-de-sac village, the last locality right next to the border, called Told, where in the majority of the houses there is neither running water nor electricity. A large proportion of the 360 inhabitants cannot read or write, and only seven of them had a job in 2013. It is hard to fathom that this village was once the home base of the famous Toldi family. By now she has about 650 children under her care from 23 villages in the region. Nóra Ritók and three of her students were in the news a few weeks ago when they met Pope Francis.

Nóra Ritók’s Facebook note was about an official e-mail she received from the ministry of human resources, informing school principals about the introduction of a Honvédelmi Intézkedési Terv (National Defense Action Plan), or HIT. Attached to the e-mail were instructions explaining what the schools will have to do by way of  preparation before June 30, 2018. The document is 34 pages long. Nóra Ritók complained that half of the document, which is full of technical military terms, is pretty well incomprehensible to a layman, but she grasped the main point: that she, as the principal of the school, will be responsible for the organization and execution of the military aspects of the school’s defense in case of a terrorist attack.

The government-critical media looked upon this latest Fidesz idea as part and parcel of the scare tactics the Orbán government has employed ever since 2015. Since even nursery schools and kindergartens have to be military prepared, a lot of people complained that the government is including toddlers in its phony campaign against nonexistent terrorists.

The fact is that in the last few years several European countries have come up with action plans for schools in case of danger. In Great Britain, for example, Scotland Yard has been giving three-hour training sessions at schools and higher education facilities on how to improve security against possible attack. In France, the government announced in August, 2016 that 14-year-olds will receive training on how to survive a terrorist attack on their schools. Each school will hold three exercises per academic year, covering the “ability of schools to react and not be taken by surprise.” The French went so far as to teach three-year-olds how to play “silence reigns” if and when an attack is underway. And such precautionary measures are also being taken in the United States.

Getting ready — Saint Joseph Catholic Elementary School, Debrecen

What is happening in Hungary, however, is an entirely different story. In order to understand the possibly sinister nature of this new piece of legislation, we have to go back to January 12, 2016, when István Simicskó, the minister of defense, called together all the parliamentary parties to discuss new security measures that would involve the use of the army in the event of a terror threat. At that time there were already three situations in which the government could take varying degrees of extraordinary measures: (1) “emergency conditions” (veszélyhelyzet); (2) “preventive defense conditions” (megelőző védelmi helyzet); and (3) a “full state of emergency” (rendkivüli állapot). The government added one more category: “state of terror threat” (terrorveszélyhelyzet). In the event of a terror threat, the army can be used if “the employment of police and the national security forces is insufficient.” It nowhere explains what “insufficient” means.

Now, the schools will have to be ready, and not just by taking precautionary measures against a possible attack. They will also have to be ready for “the possible introduction of a special legal order” as a result of the four above-mentioned “situations.” This may include following military orders, being ready for military service, and assisting the military in its work. The government’s document includes a number of absolutely impractical rules and regulations. Among them, my favorite is: “in case of a terror attack, the school principal may apply for individual defensive instruments.” Yes, while the school is under attack.

The ministry of human resources hasn’t yet given an explanation for this latest burden on overworked school officials, but on Sunday Csaba Dömötör, the political undersecretary in the prime minister’s office, explained to inquiring journalists that the action plan must be introduced because it is a NATO requirement. It is possible that NATO officials suggested short courses and some routine exercises, but I very much doubt that what they had in mind was a 34-page military handbook for school officials. I also doubt that French or British school principals are required to have a regularly updated list of all chemicals on the property, including gasoline for the lawnmower and cleaning supplies. Or that they have to know the exact location of all teachers at all times.

While it is a good idea to have some rudimentary plans in place against a possible attack, be it terrorism or just a crazed person’s individual action, I must agree with the critics that what the Orbán government is proposing goes beyond a rational response to the terrorist threat, which in Hungary is really minimal. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that this latest “defensive action plan” is just another ingredient in the government’s anti-migrant campaign, which, I’m afraid, is the heart and soul of Fidesz’s election program.

January 1, 2018

Joint effort of the Hungarian state and the churches to keep some schools segregated

It was about a week ago that I wrote a post about “the growing influence of the Catholic Church in Hungary.” In that post I mentioned that both the Church itself and Catholic lay organizations had acquired schools in Hungary. For example, the Kolping International has taken over at least three schools.

No one knew at that time that a school acquired several months ago by Kolping International in Szászberek (pop. 987) would soon be the focus of a huge controversy as it expanded its “campus” to take over part of the segregated public school of nearby Jászladány.

Jászladány has been in the news off and on since 2000 when the “independent” mayor of the town (pop. 6,000) decided that the single eight-grade elementary school was not big enough for both Gypsy and non-Gypsy children. I might add that according to the official statistics 11% of Jászladány’s population is Roma. So came the ingenious plan of establishing a private school, to be housed in part of the enlarged school building, where students had to pay tuition. The bulk of the expenses, however, were covered by the municipality.  For example, the newer half of the school building was given free of charge to the private foundation that ran the school. The town also allowed the new school to use all of the equipment that had earlier belonged to the public school. There was a door between the two wings of the school building, but it was locked for six solid years.

Those children whose parents could afford the tuition fees went to the good school; the rest, like the Roma, went to the inferior school. The “private school” children received all sorts of privileges. For example, a free lunch regardless of need. They were the first ones to receive free textbooks; the children in the “Gypsy” school got them only once everybody was served in the “private school.” At one point the Open Society Institute offered to pay the fees for those children who wanted to attend the private school. The Institute was told that it had missed the deadline.

Erzsébet Mohácsi, director of CFCF and lawyer for CFCF, Lilla Farkas after the Supreme Court's favorable decision

Erzsébet Mohácsi, director of CFCF, and lawyer for CFCF, Lilla Farkas, after the Supreme Court’s favorable decision

The head of the local Roma organization is an energetic man who soon enough called the attention of Esélyt a Hátrányos Helyzetű Gyermekekért Alapítvány (Foundation for Equal Opportunity of Underprivileged Children), popularly known as CFCF, to the situation in Jászladány. For ten years CFCF fought against the barely disguised segregation in Jászladány, losing one case after the other, until June 2011 when at last the Supreme Court (today the Kúria) ruled in favor of CFCF and Jászsági Roma Polgárjogi Szervezet (JRPSZ), a Roma organization in the area. The court ordered the town to work out a plan to integrate the two schools.

The new mayor, Katalin Drávucz (Fidesz), whose own child attends the “private school,” ostensibly complied with the court order. She began negotiations with the plaintiffs’ representatives to work out the details of the integration of the two schools. But behind their back she also began negotiations with the county’s “government office,” a newfangled institution that is supposed to be the arm of the central government in every county. Her real goal was to avoid the integration of the school in Jászladány.

They came up with a splendid solution: they decided to pass the private school over to Kolping International, which functions under the authority of the Archbishopric of Eger. The idea was to automatically transfer the pupils of the “private school” to the new Kolping Katolikus Általános Iskola. Although negotiations between the town and the “government office” began more than a year ago, the deal materialized only on August 30. Since Szászberek is only 10 km from Jászladány, the deal stipulated that the Szászberek Kolping school will simply “expand” and take over the former “private school” of Jászladány.

This new-old school will not charge tuition, but the Roma parents were not notified of this rather important change. By the time, practically on the day that school opened, the CFCF learned about it, it was far too late. They managed to get in touch with about twenty families, and a handful of children enrolled. The new Catholic school has no more places. As the spokesman for Kolping International said, their first obligation is to the children of the “private school.” Segregation remains intact in Jászladány. With the active participation of the Catholic Church.

And now let’s move back in time to the first months of the Orbán administration. Zoltán Balog, a Protestant minister and now the head of the mega-Ministry of Human Resources, was in charge of Roma integration in the Ministry of Administration and Justice. He often expounded on the plight of the Gypsies and promised all sorts of remedies. These remedies did not, however, include school integration. In his opinion, segregation works to the advantage of the underprivileged, most of whom are Roma. They need special attention to catch up with the other students. Of course, we know that this is a myth. Just as the U.S. Supreme Court declared when rendering its historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” And, indeed, the special classes into which Roma children were herded in the past almost guaranteed failure. Balog, however, remains unrepentant. Only recently he repeated this mistaken notion when he sided with the Greek Catholic Church in a suit brought against it by the same CFCF that handled the Jászladány case.

What happened in this instance? In Nyíregyháza there was a school in a largely Roma inhabited section of town that was closed in 2007 because of its blatant segregation. In 2011, however, the new Fidesz administration in town reopened the school and it was given to the Greek Catholic Church. CFCF pointed out that only a couple of bus stops from this segregated school there was another school that is also run by the same Greek Catholic Church. It is a newly refurbished modern school. The Roma children could certainly attend that school. Balog offered himself as a witness on behalf of the Greek Catholic Church which refused to close the segregated school and refused to integrate the Roma children into their modern facilities.

There is more and more criticism of the churches lately because they seem singularly insensitive to social issues. Criticism of the Hungarian Catholic Church has grown especially harsh since the installation of Pope Francis, who has been a spokesperson for the downtrodden. Critics complain about the extreme conservatism of the Catholic hierarchy and point out that their involvement with charity work is minimal. It is quite clear from these two cases that the churches are reluctant to deal with disadvantaged children, Roma or not. And the good minister, Zoltán Balog, advocates keeping the disadvantaged separate from “mainstream” Hungarian children. The state and the churches are working hand in hand to keep segregation alive in the Hungarian public school system.