Schools struggle with inability to unenroll pupils who have left Estonia

Children and parents on the first day of school in Tallinn. September 1, 2022. Photo is illustrative.
Children and parents on the first day of school in Tallinn. September 1, 2022. Photo is illustrative. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Some Estonian schools are facing challenges due to the number of Ukrainian war refugees, who are enrolled in their class registers but have now returned to Ukraine, without informing the school of their departure. Schools are not able to enroll those pupils themselves and are also unable to accept new children in their places.

The Estonian Ministry of Education had wanted to give educational institutions the right to unenroll children from their class registers without parental consent. A draft bill to that effect did make it to the Riigikogu but was blocked by the spring filibuster. However, this means in a number of instances, schools are unable to admit new pupils because their registers still show that there is a Ukrainian child in a class, who has seemingly long since moved back to their home country.

Tallinn's Lilleküla High School opted to unenroll 22 Ukrainian children from is elementary school register on the last day of August. The reason for doing so was not due to the children's' poor academic performance, but the fact that they have most likely long since moved back to their home country.

"In total we have 424 children, 22 of whom are on our school register but not in school. They didn't attend school last year and haven't come to school now either," said Anu Luure, principal of Tallinn Lilleküla High School.

According to current laws, schools cannot unenroll pupils without a parent's application.

However, in the case of a number of pupils who came to Estonia as refugees from Ukraine and have since left, schools have not been able to contact their families.

"If they go to another school in Estonia, we receive this information because the other school immediately informs us that they are there. Then we try to get their consent immediately. But we can't, we have tried to get their consent, but we are not able to," said Luure.

 Some of the classrooms are empty, yet there are 57 children on the school's waiting list, who cannot be admitted due to an apparent lack of places. A draft bill, which would enable schools to unenroll pupils themselves was finalized in March and reached the Riigikogu on June 12.

"At the first opportunity, that is, in the first working week of September, we will certainly put this draft bill on the agenda," said Heljo Pikhof (SDE), chair of the Riigikogu's Cultural Affairs Committee.

"I hope that perhaps this bill will go through faster. However, if still have a filibuster in the Riigikogu, then it will not, because we have a lot of bills pending in the Riigikogu at present, and particularly since the spring," Pikhof said.

According to Pikhof, a child can currently be unenrolled from a register on the orders of the school principal. In such cases, parents then have 30 days to challenge this in court. However, if a parent cannot be informed of the order, it is sufficient to publish it in the "Official Announcements." (The The Official Announcements is an electronic journal that publishes all notices, invitations and announcements prescribed by the legislation and is administrated by the Estonian Center of Registers and Information Systems (RIK) – ed.). However, the Ministry of Education does not consider this to be a suitable approach, as it lacks the need for parental consent.

"The mere fact that a child does not attend school and does not participate in the lessons is not a reason to exclude the pupil from the school register. And with this amendment to the law, we are creating this additional basis, provided that their absence from Estonia has indeed been established," said Ülle Matsin, head of the Ministry of Education's general education policy department.

"This point of confirmation is really important. We cannot create a legal situation where by students can be unenrolled without that confirmation being established," Matsin said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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