Varuh ДЌlovekovih pravic

Helping a student get his voice heard over choice of school

In dealing with this petition, the Ombudsman found that the competent social services centre had not acted in accordance with the principle of good governance when, despite the distress being suffered by the minor concerned, it brought a premature end to procedures with his family and did not convene a meeting between the petitioner and his parents after six months had elapsed from the original agreement reached, only doing so after the Ombudsman intervened.

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The petitioner, a 15-year-old school student, contacted the Human Rights Ombudsman because of problems relating to enrolment in secondary school. He stated that he was a first-year student at a gimnazija (grammar school) in which he had been enrolled by his parents against his own wishes. He also stated that he had been led to believe he could enrol in the gimnazija of his choice after six months, as this is what had been agreed at the competent social services centre. Re-enrolment had not taken place after six months, and his parents no longer responded to his wish to re-enrol. He asked the Ombudsman for help.

The adviser at the school in which the petitioner had been enrolled against his will also contacted the Ombudsman regarding the petitioner and his problems. She explained that the school enrolment form had been signed by the father on his son’s behalf. After obtaining an explanation from the Ministry of Education and Sport (MIZŠ), the petitioner and his parents agreed that he would sign the enrolment form and that, after six months, he would be able to transfer to the school of his choice (where he has friends). She also explained that the petitioner did not enjoy his current school, that he was doing well academically, but that he refused to interact socially.

After making enquiries, the Ombudsman obtained information from the social services centre on the petitioner’s family circumstances, what the centre had done to resolve the family problems, and the problems related to his re-enrolment. The social services centre explained that the procedure of dealing with the petitioner’s family had come to an end because the petitioner had said, in discussion with the case officer at the centre, that he no longer saw any point in holding discussions with his parents at the centre because they had said that he would not be enrolling in the other school. After reviewing the documentation and holding face-to-face meetings with the petitioner and the adviser, the Ombudsman established that the petitioner was still distressed by his parents’ failure to comply with the agreement regarding re-enrolment. It therefore took the position that the procedure of dealing with the petitioner’s family at the social services centre had been concluded prematurely. For the Ombudsman this raised the further question of whether it had been appropriate to bring the procedure to an end given that the centre itself reported that the parents had not listened to the petitioner during the discussion and that he was in a distressed state. The Ombudsman therefore proposed that the centre invite the petitioner’s family to another meeting and take steps to encourage the members of the family to listen to each other and find a solution that would help remove the petitioner’s distress. The Ombudsman also proposed that the centre hold a meeting with the adviser from the school that the petitioner was currently attending.  

After this proposal, the petitioner apprised the Ombudsman of the minutes of the team meeting at the social services centre. The minutes show that discussions had started. Shortly after receiving the minutes, the petitioner had informed the Ombudsman that despite a different agreement having been reached, his parents were continuing to insist that he continue at the school they had chosen for him. He also stated that the social services centre had done nothing in response to this and, moreover, had not got in contact with the school adviser. It was clear from talking to the petitioner that he was considerably disappointed at the fact that the adults (parents) had not kept to the agreement and at the conduct of the centre, which had promised that the situation would be reviewed after six months (if he fulfilled all his academic obligations) and further discussions held on this basis. It was also clear from talking to him that he had completely lost trust in his parents and the social services centre.

The Ombudsman then held several telephone conversations with staff at the CSD and emphasised the importance of responding to the petitioner’s distress. It also warned that his distress was increasing, and pointed out that they had promised him during discussions that they would meet again six months after enrolment in his current school, review the situation and talk about the options open to him. During these telephone discussions, the centre promised that they would provide the space for a discussion and get in contact with the adviser. After the adviser reported that the centre had not contacted her by the promised deadline, the Ombudsman once again wrote to the centre asking for an explanation. On this occasion it also proposed that the petitioner’s case be dealt with as a matter of priority on account of his acknowledged distress, his growing distrust of his parents and the social services centre, and the possible long-term consequences for his future education. The centre explained that it had tried on several occasions to get in touch with the father, who saw no reason why he should attend a meeting; it also explained that the father wanted the petitioner to continue at the school of his (the father’s) choice until the end of the year. The Ombudsman pointed out that this was contrary to the agreement reached at the centre, and reiterated its concern that this could have long-term consequences for the petitioner’s future education. It was then that a ‘children’s voice’ advocate was appointed, with the centre expressing the wish for this advocate to be present at discussions;

they then informed the Ombudsman that discussions had been held involving all family members and some members of the extended family, and provided a summary of the content of the discussions. The centre’s explanations made clear that the parents were taking a hard stance from which they would not budge, and that the CSD did acknowledge the distress felt by the petitioner at attending the school chosen by his parents. Acknowledging the complex distress of the family as a whole, the centre referred them to a family psychotherapist. However, no such sessions took place. The centre was informed that a meeting had been agreed with an addiction treatment specialist because of the parents’ concern that the petitioner was addicted to computer games. The centre supported the meeting because they were of the opinion that the parents would therefore be able to obtain a professional answer to their son’s distress; they also believed it would be sensible, after this meeting, to organise a joint meeting with the parents and everyone involved. They also believed it would be useful for the children’s voice advocate to present his findings at the meeting.

The Ombudsman again requested a report from the social services centre summarising the content of the discussions held there. The centre pointed out that the discussions had been steered towards getting the parents to listen to the petitioner and reaching a compromise. The report also contained the addiction specialist’s opinion, which was that the petitioner did not require treatment for video game addiction. A team meeting was then convened at the social services centre at which all participants presented their observations. The outcome of the meeting was that the parents agreed that the petitioner could enrol in the school of his choice.

The Ombudsman regarded the petition as justified because the social services centre had brought procedures with the petitioner’s family to an end prematurely, i.e. when the petitioner was still distressed by the situation. It also regarded the petition as justified because the social services centre failed to convene a meeting between the petitioner and his parents after six months had elapsed from the agreement reached, only doing so after the Ombudsman had intervened. The social services centre therefore acted contrary to the principle of good governance. 21.0-31/2020