© UNESCO, Michel Ravassard
28 September 2020

On 18 September 2020, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  (CRPD) found that Spain violated the right to inclusive education of a child with Down’s Syndrome by excluding him from the mainstream education system and sending him, against the will of his parents, to a special school for children with disabilities. 

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guarantees in Article 24 that every child has the right to inclusive education which is based on the principle that all children should learn together, regardless of difference. 

The decision (available in Spanish) is the CRPD’s first decision on the right to inclusive education although in 2017 the CRPD carried out a confidential inquiry which found: 

Spain’s segregation and exclusion of students with disabilities from mainstream education, on grounds of their impairments, amounts to grave or systematic violations of those students’ right to education under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.’

In its recent  decision, the Committee concluded that Spain failed to assess the child’s specific requirements and to take reasonable steps that could have allowed him to remain in mainstream education. Thus the State party failed to fulfil its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

The child, Rubén, was in a mainstream school in León. With the support of a special education assistant, he had good relations with his classmates and teachers until 2009 when he entered grade four aged 10. The situation deteriorated and serious allegations of ill-treatment and abuse by his teacher surfaced. 

The condition did not improve when Rubén entered grade five. His new class teacher did not consider that he needed a special education assistant and only after his parents complained was he allowed to have one. 

However, Rubén began to exhibit difficulties in learning and with school life. A school report noted what it termed Rubén’s “disruptive behaviour”, “psychotic outbreaks” and “developmental delay associated with Down syndrome”. In June 2011, the Provincial Directorate of Education authorized Rubén’s enrolment in a special education centre in the face of his parents’ objections. 

Rubén’s parents denounced the abuses he suffered before domestic judicial authorities, but no effective investigation was conducted. His parents also unsuccessfully challenged the education authority’s decision to enrol him in a special education centre. Furthermore, the authorities brought criminal charges against the parents for their refusal to send their child to a specialized school.

Rubén and his father eventually took their case to the Committee in 2017. 

After examining the allegations presented by both sides, the Committee concluded that Spain violated Rubén’s right to inclusive education. 

“It does not appear that the State party’s authorities have carried out a thorough assessment or an in-depth, detailed study of his educational needs and the reasonable accommodations that he would have required to be able to continue attending a mainstream school,” said Committee member Markus Schefer. 

The Committee requested that Spain ensures Rubén, who is currently in a private special education centre for students with special needs, is admitted to an inclusive vocational training programme; that he is given compensation, and that his allegations of abuse are effectively investigated. 

Among other recommendations, the Committee also urged Spain to eliminate any educational segregation of students with disabilities in both special education schools and specialised units within mainstream schools, and to ensure that parents of students with disabilities are not prosecuted for claiming their children’s right to inclusive education.