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Published in Print: November 1, 2001, as Dispatches


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Rights Stuff: Russian schoolchildren can do more than sulk after teachers punish them; they can lodge a formal grievance. The education ministry recently opened a school-complaints office, complete with a telephone hot line and a Web site, to educate parents and children about their rights. Many Russian parents grew up in an era when teachers could search their bags without explanation, but this is now illegal, the Moscow Times observes. So far, most complaints have been about overcrowding, corruption, and neglect. Although the new office sounds valuable, not everyone thinks so. "It will be used by parents and students to take revenge on teachers they don't like," Alexander Kinsbursky, director of a Moscow-based social research center, tells the Christian Science Monitor.


Common Scents: A high school in British Columbia has established two scent-free classrooms to protect a sensitive teacher from exposure to the wafting smells of hair gel, perfume, and fabric softener. If students choose to wear scents, they can't take a class with Tom Mah, a popular photography teacher who has been diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity, the Vancouver Sun reports. But the provincial deputy health officer has questioned whether scent-free zones are a medical necessity, and not all teachers are supportive. "Some people think they have a right to wear scents and don't react very well when someone tells them they can't," explains Lynne Sinclair, a Teachers' Federation health and safety officer. When hypersensitivity involves children, though, there are usually few complaints about going scent-free, she notes.


Illegal Fees: Although the Slovak constitution guarantees the right to free education, some schools are demanding contributions from parents to pay for basic supplies, according to the Czech News Agency. Some teachers ask for volunteer donations, and others, at the behest of school boards, threaten to take away children's computer privileges if parents don't pay an entrance fee, which sometimes is hundreds of dollars. The practice is unacceptable, says Vladislav Rosa, the Slovak chief inspector of schools. "Teachers even ask for money in front of the whole class." That, she says, "must have a serious mental and social impact" on students.


Boys' Room Brawl: Parents and children's rights advocates have asked a Latvian middle school to remove a surveillance camera that was placed in a boys' bathroom last spring. The camera was installed to catch boys who use drugs or assault each other. "I can't force the school's teachers, all of whom are women, to go into the toilet and control the situation," Janina Bertaschulte, the school's deputy principal, tells the Agence France-Presse. For this reason, she says, the school had no choice but to mount the bathroom camera, and parents didn't object to it when the possibility was discussed last year.

—Katharine Dunn

Vol. 13, Issue 3, Page 12

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