Today’s guest author is Alma Björk Ástþórsdóttir. Alma is an advocate in Iceland. In May 2021 the grassroots movement „Sagan okkar“ (e. Our story) was founded by Alma Björk Ástþórsdóttir and Árdís Rut H. Einarsdóttir. The movement fights for the rights of children in the Icelandic school system. Through a Facebook group, the movement has been able to collect stories from parents and teachers, about the abuse and neglect of pupils due to insufficient inclusive education policy. The situation is serious. Many parents are forced to be “stay-at-home” parents and others have had no other choice than to home-school their children.
In August we launched an advertising campaign on social media where Icelandic actors and singers told a fragment of the stories that had been published in the group. We also launched videos where pupils talked about how much they hate their life and would like to end them.
Many of the videos were shocking. However, they did not affect our governors. There were no comments from any members of the parliament.
On the 17th of August, we held a press conference with ÖBÍ, an umbrella organization of 41 associations of people with disabilities in Iceland. We introduced the grassroots movement and explained the seriousness of the matter. We also announced that a few parents were in cooperation with ÖBÍ’s lawyers preparing court cases to claim these rights through the justice system.
Still, our authorities had no comments on the matter.
The Althingi Ombudsman takes the matter seriously
While our government is failing, the Ombudsman might be saving the children.
In June 2020 the Althingi Ombudsman asked for information from the Ministry of Education and Culture, and from 17 school offices about the situation of primary school students and seclusion rooms after receiving complaints and descriptions of incidents.
Following the answers he received, it was decided not to take any further action at the time. However, On the 12th of October, the Althingi Ombudsman has again asked for the information from the Ministry of Education and Culture and four school offices after receiving more complaints and crucial evidence.
The fact that the ombudsman has called for this information sheds light on the seriousness of the situation. As he told MBL’s news reporter, the fact that the Ombudsman is investigating the matter is a sign that the matter is being taken seriously and that it is considered necessary to respond.
However, the Icelandic governors have still not commented on the matter.
On the 15th of October, it was reported that parents had complained to the Ministry of Education and Culture about a school staff’s behavior against their child as the child was locked in a seclusion room. The parents also complained about the inactions of the school office in the child’s affairs.
School employees reported to the police
On the 2nd of November, it was reported that the central investigations division of the capital region police is investigating allegations of holding a child captive after a teacher and three school employees were reported to police for their treatment of a pupil. The 8-year-old child was locked in a room alone for 25 minutes, with nothing, not even a bottle of water. Only two mattresses on the floor and a filmed window so that the child could not look out. The child was distressed and panicked. It was crying and knocking on the door to be let out.
Following this news, Icelandic journalists are receiving further reports from other parents saying that their child was locked alone in a seclusion room in their school.
On the 8th of November, the Icelandic media reported that in December 2020 another teacher was reported to the police after abusing a child in Gerðarskóla, a primary school in southwest Iceland. The teacher is still working in the school.
Still, there are no comments from the Icelandic government.
Locking a child in a room in this way is not something that happens accidentally in the heat of the moment. It has been planned within the school to respond in this way. The room has been prepared.
However, deprivation of liberty is against Icelandic law. It is cruel and it is inhuman to treat a child with special needs in this way.
Judging by the actions taken after the media in Iceland has shed light on the matter, it seems that a violation against the rights of a child is not considered as serious in Iceland as in many other neighboring countries. In 2013 Blackpool primary school teachers were suspended due to a similar incident during a police investigation. However, in Iceland, there has been no statement from the minister of Education and Culture, the Minister of Social Affairs and Children nor has any other member of the government responded. And although police are investigating the matter and have received evidence in the form of a report of the incident written by the staff itself, the staff is still working in the school.
In the eyes of the international society, Iceland is a Nordic welfare country that respects the rights of its citizens
Ásmundur Einar Daðason the minister of Social Affairs and Children has announced that he plans to make political decisions to make Iceland the best country in the world to be a child. However, he has not reacted in any way to the stories the movement is shedding a light on regarding problems, neglect, and abuse in the school system.
It is even more ironic that this is the situation in our country while Iceland is participating in UNICEF‘s Child-Friendly Cities Initiative project.
According to a UNICEF report, Iceland ranked the top 5 countries for the best family-friendly policies among 31 rich countries with available data. We wonder where this data came from because this is not the experience that parents of children with special needs children have.
It is a valid question for the international society to ask how the government of Iceland can aim so high to become one of the best countries in the world for children to live in while at the same time ignoring neglect and abuse in its school system.