Y, T & A v. Berlin Education Authority

Domestic Courts
Discrimination against Ethnic Minorities in Berlin Schools

Three pupils of migrant background were admitted to the Leonardo da Vinci gymnasium, a top grammar school in Berlin. They were placed in a class disproportionately composed of children of migrant background. The class and the pupils in it were informally designated by the school as having no academic future. Within a few months, the pupils were told that they would be relegated from the gymnasium at the end of the school year to a lower-level school, due to poor results. A legal challenge to their treatment argues that educational reforms adopted in Berlin, which in principle allow easier access to quality secondary education at the gymnasium level, are being implemented in a discriminatory fashion that continues to restrict educational opportunities for children of migrant background.


In August 2011, the Leonardo da Vinci gymnasium established a class with approximately 66 percent of pupils from a migrant background. They came from the same primary school which itself was mainly composed of pupils of migrant descent. Some of the pupils had received a recommendation from former teachers that they should attend the gymnasium. Others had taken advantage of a change in the law that allowed them to attend without a specific gymnasium recommendation.

By October 2011, several pupils in this class were informed that they were to be relegated from the gymnasium at the end of the year and would be sent to lower-level Sekundarschulen elsewhere in Berlin.

During the rest of the academic year, the pupils complained that harsh disciplinary measures were imposed upon them and that the attitude of the school was that they were a “lost cause.” Some of the parents requested that their children be transferred to another, less “problematic” parallel class, but this was refused.

The school stated that it had not subjected the pupils to any discriminatory treatment, and that the reason for the relegation was that the students showed unacceptable behavior, were uninterested in learning, and came from a low education environment.

At the end of the year, the students were relegated to the Alfred Durer integrated school, where they were placed in special classes for relegated pupils.

In December 2012, an answer to a question in the Berlin Parliament revealed that there were twice as many pupils of migrant origin who were relegated from Berlin gymnasium than children without a migration background. Other schools in Berlin have segregated classes in which virtually all the children are from a migrant background. Across Germany as a whole, the official 2010 Ministry of Education report reveals that children with a migration background attend a Hauptschule twice as often as children without a migration background—even within the same socio-economic class.

Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement

Three pupils sought to challenge their discriminatory treatment and subsequent relegation by the school. The Justice Initiative supported the development of the cases at domestic level, providing advice to counsel on matters of European antidiscrimination law. In August 2012, Berlin based lawyer Carsten Ilius brought proceedings in the Berlin Administrative Court.

Antidiskriminierungsnetzwerk Berlin und Brandenburg and Migrationsrat Berlin Brandenburg together with consultants at the Law and Society Institute provided substantive support to the claimants and the community.


Segregation of Pupils. A disproportionate number of pupils from a minority background were placed in the same class, which at the end of the year had the highest number of pupils relegated from the school. Disciplinary measures taken against the class were more severe and average results were much lower. The school argues that parental wishes to keep children in the same classes as their friends from primary school is responsible for the statistics.

No Justification. The school failed to provide a reasonable and objective justification for the difference in treatment. Disciplinary measures were taken without any attempt to address emotional or sociological problems.  A decision was apparently made early in the academic year that the pupils were unable to follow the gymnasium curriculum, but no additional support was given to the provided, due to lack of resources.

Harm. The pupils have suffered as a result of an inferior curriculum and harsh disciplinary measures, and have as a result been forced out of the school. Their future careers are tainted by the unjustified stigma of having failed at the gymnasium and being placed in “relegated” classes at the secondary schools.


August 1, 2012. Cases filed before the Berlin Administrative Court.

August 2013. Anticipated court hearing.