Romanian Boy Bullied for Having Special Educational Needs Takes Case to ECtHR

​The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Forum for Human Rights intervened in a case before the European Court of Human Rights. The case concerns a boy with special educational needs who experienced discrimination at a public school in Romania.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) and the Forum for Human Rights have submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Strasbourg Court in a case brought against Romania, concerning a student with special educational needs. The brief emphasises that students with disabilities face difficulties in exercising their right to education not only in Romania but across Europe.

Claimant bullied by peers, teachers and the headmaster

The case of M.C. v. Romania concerns a boy who was diagnosed with special educational needs (including oppositional defiant disorder) who claims that he was harassed at school because of his disability. The applicant allegedly experienced bullying from other students but also from teachers and the school’s headmaster.

Initially, thanks to the cooperation between the school and a non-governmental organisation, it was possible to develop an effective model for supporting the boy. But the situation changed after the school stopped working with the NGO. After this the individual support plan was discontinued, and the negative behaviour of students and teachers escalated. The claimant also complained that the school failed to provide an environment that was supportive of his specific educational needs. This forced him to transfer to a private institution where he continued his education and was provided with appropriate and personalised support.

The applicant’s parents initiated a number of administrative and civil proceedings, but their claims and complaints were dismissed. However, the headmaster was charged and convicted of mistreatment of the student in criminal proceedings.

EU states should provide inclusive education for people with disabilites

The application filed with the Court raises a number of complaints, but brief focuses on the issue of the right to education, which is protected by Article 2 of the Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The amicus curiae brief stresses that the implementation of the right to education in the M.C. case should be considered in light of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which obliges states to ensure an inclusive education system which enables people with disabilities to be integrated at all levels of education. The Convention also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in terms of access to education and points to the need to guarantee reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities in the course of their education.

The brief describes how education systems for students with disabilities work in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In these countries there are still many barriers and difficulties in providing access to education for people with disabilities. The organisations have also referred to scientific evidence that suggests students with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to peer violence at school, which can hinder their right to education.

In M.C. v. Romania, the European Court of Human Rights will have the opportunity to strengthen the standard of protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. This, in turn, will have an impact on the situation not only in Romania but also in other European countries, including Poland.