The Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia has established a new rule authorizing schools to suspend a student’s status under certain circumstances. Henceforth, a school is empowered to suspend the status of a student at the primary and/or basic secondary educational level – with or without issuing a warning to the student’s parent or legal representative. A student’s status can be suspended if, for example, the student does not attend classes for a period of six months; the student does not undergo an evaluation and is not registered as an external student; or if the student grossly and repeatedly violates school procedure.
The new regulation – approved in January 2012 as an amendment to the Education Minister’s decree on the enrollment of students at secondary schools – requires only the administrative act of a school director to suspend a student’s status. Reinstatement is granted only upon application submitted by a parent or legal representative to the school that suspended the student’s status or to a successor school.
That power now granted to a school director restricts the constitutional right of students to an education. Article 35 of the Constitution of Georgia guarantees that “[e]veryone shall have the right to receive education and the right to free choice of a form of education” and further provides that “[e]lementary and basic education shall be compulsory.”
The Ministry of Education and Science claims the new rule will ensure targeted use and transparency of allocated finances – so-called voucher funding for each student. However, it is not clear how that goal will be achieved by giving school directors discretionary power to suspend a student’s status. What mechanisms are in place to ensure that schools actually provide the Ministry with accurate and timely information about students who systematically miss classes or to prevent school directors, for any number of reasons, from protecting favored students from sanctions imposed on less-favored students? Surely the Ministry could have devised a better solution.
Georgian schools are already authorized to expel any student who violates school disciplinary procedures. The expelled student can then move to another school. If other schools refuse to admit expelled students, it could require establishment of an educational institution devoted exclusively to students with disciplinary problems. Suspending student status is tantamount to restricting students’ right to an education by sidelining them from the educational system and, even more so, for an unspecified time period. In response to our inquiry on this issue, the Ministry would say only that student status will necessarily be restored.
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 86, published 6 February 2012.