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ECHR: denial of the right to access mainstream schooling

Autism-Europe regrets the recent judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a Council of Europe (CoE) body, on the right to inclusive education of autistic children.

On Thursday 24 January 2019, as reported by the communication agency Reuters, the ECHR dismissed the case of a mother with an autistic child who wanted to uphold the right of her son to access mainstream school instead of being placed in a medical-educational institute (IME in French). This violated his right to access inclusive education and was done mainly for monetary reasons.

In April 2011, the application for enrolling her nine-year-old son in primary school was refused by the Commission for the Rights and Autonomy of Disabled Persons of Ille-et-Vilaine, a local authority at the regional level. The decision was then confirmed by the competent authorities due to the psychological and behavioral state of the child, in the years following.

 The Court in Strasbourg considers the request for violation of the right to education to be “unfounded”. “Having weighed up the level of his disability and the benefit he could derive from access to inclusive education, (the French authorities) have opted for an education appropriate to his needs, in a specialized environment”, it says in a unanimous judgement. 

It recalls, however, that “(French) legislation provides, as a matter of priority, for the enrollment of children and adolescents with autism in institutions of common law”. This priority is also claimed by associations of parents with autism and included in the revised European Social Charter, which France ratified in 1999, for all disabled people. It is also included in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), ratified by France and all member states of the European Union, as well as by the European Union. 

“In the light of all the evidence submitted to it, the Court cannot consider that the choice made by the national authorities was made by default, because of a lack of resources and academic assistance within of the ordinary school,” concludes the Court. 

This decision comes at a time when the Committee on Social Rights, an expert group charged with ensuring compliance with the European Social Charter by the CoE member states, said on the same day that France was still not in accordance with its commitments, with regard to education and vocational training for people with autism. This opinion stems from two convictions of France, in 2003 and 2013, after claims by the associations Autism-Europe and European Action of the Disabled.

According to figures presented by the government at the launch last April of the fourth “autism plan“, 30% of children with autism are enrolled in kindergarten – on average less than two days per week – and 40% to primary school.

Read to the decision of the ECHR