Justice chancellor: Crowded school can switch students to later shift

Bunting in a classroom that reads
Bunting in a classroom that reads "TERE KOOL" ("HELLO SCHOOL"). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

A group of parents submitted a complaint to Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise against a school that decided to switch its third grade classes to a separate, second shift due to a lack of space. The justice chancellor found that the school did not violate students' rights by doing so.

The parents' complaint was prompted by the school's decision to switch students entering the third grade to a second, later shift despite parents requesting that the school day begin earlier.

In her response to the parents, Madise noted that according to the principal's explanation, the school has to start the school day later due to a shortage of space at the school. Health protection requirements for school schedules provide that if there isn't enough room in a school for studies to take place in one shift, then studies can be split into two shifts, on condition that the second shift's lessons end no later than 7 p.m.

"You highlighted that over the past three years, third grade classes have been able to start their school day in the first shift, due to which parents have developed the expectation that third grade classes don't have to attend school during the second shift," Madise noted in her response. "Unfortunately, neither students nor their parents can not develop a legitimate expectation based on the school's prior activity that beginning in third grade, students can only attend school during the first shift."

The chancellor of justice added that based on her information, the school has given no such promise, nor do the school's statutes mention it. When drawing up schedules, the school must take all of its classes into consideration, and circumstances may differ by year.

The school in question, however, must find time in the schedule to arrange for swim class for the third graders — on top of swim classes for incoming fourth and fifth graders as well, as COVID-19 related restrictions and closures over the past two school years prevented swim class from being held regularly.

In their complaint to the justice chancellor, the parents expressed concern that a later school day could hinder children's participation in extracurriculars, make it difficult for parents to provide their children with the support they need as well as leave the kids themselves exhausted by the end of the day.

"It is clear that a child's interests must be taken into consideration when drawing up the school's schedule," Madise wrote. "Nevertheless, in this case you cannot generalize about all third graders that the kids aren't left with any time to rest or participate in extracurriculars because they have to attends school during the second shift. In addition to studies, a child's participation in extracurriculars and their time to rest are also influenced by a family's decisions and opportunities and their scheduling outside of school."

The chancellor of justice added that if a lack of space at a school starts to jeopardize a student's right to an education and their health, the school's management is required to find a solution, which will in turn be supervised by the Ministry of Education and Research.

If the Ministry of Education finds that the lack of sufficient space at a school has started jeopardizing the accessibility and quality of education provided there, the ministry can launch supervision of the school and, in case of violations, issue fines as well.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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