Alejandro Calleja is the father of Rubén, a boy with Down syndrome forced by the Junta de Castilla y León to attend a special education center. Their parents have denied and denounce the violation of the fundamental right to an inclusive education, under the protection of the SOLCOM Association.
The interview is conducted by Ignacio Calderón Almendros, professor of the Department of Theory and History of Education at the University of Malaga. These pages are a mirror of an earlier interview, in which roles were reversed.
What school did you dream for Reuben and which school did you find? What has not been understood by the institution of Rubén and your family?
If I am sincere in this unexplored way 12 years ago we only thought of educating Rubén as he was educating his brother both at home and at school. We believed we did not have to dream of an inclusive school. Rubén’s older brother is 4 years old and was perfectly educated in the public school of the neighborhood in which we live. That is what we wanted for Rubén and that was during 8 years in which he was perfectly adapted and integrated being one more student with his SEN recognized and attended, until in 4º of primary came a new teacher-tutor who without knowing him did not accept him in the classroom and there the problems began. This situation caused a bankruptcy in the schooling of Rubén because of this situation of rejection, discrimination and mistreatment, verified and verified in the sentence of the High Court of Justice, by the new teacher-tutor the rest of the faculty that knew Rubén Instead of positioning itself in favor of its integration, it looked to the other side, it was silent and it consented it. On the part of the teachers began to raise a wall that was growing and became impassable because knowing of it we received only encouragement and support individually and almost sneakly, because when it was officially dealt with the School Board, the School Council or the Educational inspection was a taboo subject and one did not want to acknowledge the obvious. So fragile is the system.
The whole educational community (students, parents and teachers) knew about the behavior of this teacher-tutor to Rubén and we always find support and help in Rubén’s parents and companions without exception and this was demonstrated when they went to testify before the judge.
As a father, he was the vice president of the school’s AMPA and a member of the School Board, we were completely involved in the day-to-day of our son’s education by always being open to any suggestions and working with the school to bring Rubén’s education to fruition. As a family we were always demanding with the education of Rubén because to school we did not want that it was only to be but above all to socialize and to learn without limits according to his capacity because we know him better than anyone and we know more of his difficulties. In the end this demand was also a problem because the teachers threw the towel and only thought and acted for Rubén to leave the school.
We believe that the system has to change drastically because it cannot be that the schooling of our children depends on such a fragile thread. It cannot be that the teacher-tutor who rejects, discriminates and mistreats the student is the one who urges the guidance team to make a psycho-pedagogical report to dictate the segregation and exclusion of the student violating their right, their dignity and even their integrity. Families want to be a real active part in this whole process of education and schooling.
Perhaps we should think about the role of guidance teams in schools…
Indeed, we must rethink the role of the guidance teams because I understand that adequate reports must be made to know the needs of the student, what should never be these reports psychopedagogical is the perfect excuse to determine who has a right to an inclusive education and Who has no right, since all students have the fundamental human right to an inclusive education in ordinary school. The opinions, absolute power of the educational administration, must disappear because at the moment they are the ones that sentence the minor with diversity to a sentence of social death.
Many people question the position you have taken in refusing to take Rubén to special education. Even some say that you do not accept Rubén…
We know that our position has generated much controversy especially in people who do not know us. Those who know us support us unconditionally: family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors … León is a small city in which we all know each other directly or indirectly and in particular we have received the support and encouragement of teachers, educational inspectors, counselors, psychologists …
We know that some people say that as parents we still do not accept Reuben as he is and blinds us to love not to see reality … We respect all opinions even if there are some that we do not share. Since Rubén was born we were aware of this new reality but above all that our son was a person and as such, we act: we inform ourselves and we are formed for it. As every human being has rights and dignity, so simple.
What is the fuel of your struggle, why and what do you do it for?
The fuel of our struggle is Rubén, because from the time he wakes up to lie down he gives meaning to this battle: his achievements and his frustrations, his joys and his sadness, his progress and his difficulties … We are educating him for LIFE and the more Autonomous and independent. Unlimited.
We struggle because this situation is unfair to Rubén; Because as a person has rights and dignity, because there is a fundamental human right of all children to an inclusive education in ordinary school, Because no person but a minor has to suffer rejection, discrimination, mistreatment and as a result of it being segregated and excluded; Because the professionals responsible for all this disregard act irresponsibly with arrogance and impunity; Because we are convinced and so we are told by professionals who try and know Rubén that the best thing for him is schooling in ordinary school because it is the best reflection of society with its pros and cons against the special center, Because parents have the preferential right to choose the type and model of schooling we want for our children; And because families cannot be charged with a criminal offense of family neglect when we are giving the best education to Rubén, defending his right and dignity as a person. Other institutions and people have abandoned our son.
We continue with this fight until the end so that these events never happen again and so that no family will ever go through this difficult situation because socially and morally it is inadmissible.
What emotions and thoughts did you find when you received the massive citizen support for your struggle?
First of all thanks, since after three years of desert crossing and incomprehensible educational, judicial and associative social support has always been our support. We have almost 150,000 signatures that we will get the Education Counselor to try to get Rubén back to the ordinary school from which he never had to be expelled. This great citizen support gives us renewed strength to continue. We think that the worst has happened and at least we will try with all our forces because without pretending or wanting we are the voice of many people who have been unable to defend their rights for many reasons.
What would you tell the faculty? What do we have to change?
As a parent who cares and cares about the education of his children, I know the difficulties teachers have to face. Classrooms are a reflection of society: plural and diverse. Just one recommendation: how would you like your child to be cared for and treated in school if he had a diversity? There is a subject that is not taught in the faculties and is the authentic vocation to this wonderful profession: respect, affection, humility and understanding. Teachers and parents: TOGETHER WE ADD.
After the Constitutional Court has not complied with your demands, you intend to bring the case to the Strasbourg Human Rights Court. Do you think it will bear fruit?
It is sad that the TC does not recognize inclusive education as a fundamental and constitutional human right. It has not wanted to study it, allowing school segregation and social exclusion, and giving absolute power to educational administration against its own principles. Incredible but true. For our part we are going to try with all our strength because with the support of all we will give the maximum so that it is. The right to inclusive education deserves it.
The SOLCOM association is made up of very valuable people who will do their best to make this cause triumph, so the best is yet to come. We leave for the final station of this tortuous journey, destiny Strasbourg.
How have you experienced the disparity of criteria that exists between the Convention, educational policies and the judiciary?
In all this box of tailor that is the educational norm the educational administration (Ministry of Education, Regional Education Council and Provincial Directorates of Education) is the one that exercises absolute power. Law and standards recognize the right to inclusive education of all children and the right of parents to choose the type and model of schooling but all this is very nice in the text and practically null in reality. The economic crisis seems the perfect alibi for its non-application and this is a serious mistake, since there is no economic and academic study to support it since without inclusive education we make dependent citizens for life and this entails a huge economic and moral cost that this society of the 21st century cannot afford.
At the beginning of this game we knew that it was not going to be easy, neither fast nor simple because the rival that unfortunately we have in front is the educational administration with its many officials that plays with the marked letters, because it handles like no one the educational regulation and its gaps putting To the judicial power at his feet. Fear of the unknown and ignorance about educational issues makes cowardly judges and prosecutors allowing educational segregation, social exclusion and child abuse, relying on technical reports that leave much to be desired and blame the child pretending to want their good.
What has been the role that academics have played in your struggle? What do you think should have been their performance?
When we talk about inclusive education, equality, rights, dignity … we all agree that they are inalienable values and when it affects us directly much more. We know that there are many outstanding people and associations in our struggle that have the sense of being transversal, ethical, moral and social. We have to be constant and not faint each in their environment and we must add because adding WE CAN.