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All people should have the right to education from childhood and as a lifelong process. No one should be subjected to discrimination based on biases about whether they can benefit from receiving education or not.

In the last years, Brazil’s law for inclusion of people with disabilities  has required that all schools provide inclusive education for people with disabilities, ending the previous ghettoization of students with disabilities in a parallel system of special schools.

But on October 1, 2020, the government adopted a decree that is a direct attack on inclusive education, establishing a national policy encouraging states and municipalities to build special segregated schools and programs for people with disabilities.

In 2018 Human Rights Watch released a report in Brazil about abuses against people with disabilities, including children, living in institutions. Among the various abuses we found was the failure to provide education to people with so-called “severe” disabilities, due to entrenched beliefs among institution leadership and staff that they would not benefit from education. Most people with disabilities living in institutions who had intellectual disabilities, but also those who were blind, deaf or had visual or hearing disabilities, were not sent to school at all.

Many people with disabilities face harsh obstacles to education and enjoyment of other rights because of beliefs and attitudes held by people around them. However, globally many people with disabilities defy those obstacles, complete their education and take part in shaping their communities. There are numerous examples of people with disabilities with high support requirements who succeeded in having an education For example, in Peru, 28-year-old Bryan Russell, who has Down syndrome, succeeded in studying communication sciences at college. In the United States, In Brazil there are also numerous examples such as Claudio Lucano Dusik, who has a PhD in education and had spinal atrophy.

Currently, all schools in Brazil have the obligation to provide high quality inclusive education for people with disabilities.

  The Brazil’s new decree would undermine that goal by once again establishing specialized schools (article 2, section VI) and providing for segregation of students in special classes for people with disabilities in mainstream schools (article 2, Section VII).  

Such a system poses serious risks to the right to inclusive education for children with disabilities.  Human Rights Watch research in countries like South Africa, Nepal, and Kazakhstan shows that when a parallel and segregated system of special education exists, it can serve as a major obstacle for inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream education.

The decree also requires the development of criteria to identify “students who do not benefit from inclusive mainstream schools”—raising the serious concern that authorities will seek to exclude those students from mainstream schools and require them to attend special schools or classrooms, in violation of Brazilian and international law. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which in Brazil has constitutional status since August 2018, prohibits excluding people with disabilities from the general system of education (article 24.2.a).

All people with all types of disabilities (physical, sensory, intellectual, and with mental health conditions), including those with higher requirements for support (CRPD, preamble J), like deaf blind people, are entitled to access the regular system of education with the necessary adjustments and individual reasonable accommodation, as appropriate, but always within the general system.

No child should be deemed only qualified for special education or other forms of segregated education. Categorizing children as only eligible for a certain type of education is discriminatory and arbitrary. It also contradicts Brazilian law.  If evaluations are to be made, they should have the purpose of determining and providing the type of support needed by people with disabilities to access mainstream schools, providing resources and instructions to school officials so that they ensure children succeed in these environments.

Brazil’s Federal Government should urgently cancel this decree that promotes segregation and isolation of children with disabilities and continue to improve its education system to ensure it is more open and inclusive for all.

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