In August 2012, three young German students filed a case against an elite secondary school in Berlin, alleging discrimination on the basis of their “migrant” backgrounds during the 2011–2012 academic year. Their poor academic performance was due to their placement in a classroom comprised disproportionately of other students from “migrant” backgrounds. As a result of the insufficient language support they received, these three students were “relegated” from the gymnasium at the end of the school year to a lower-level school. In their suit, the students seek a remedy for the harm they suffered at the gymnasium—where their classroom was known to include the students who had little academic promise.
On Thursday, September 26, 2013, a hearing is set before an administrative judge, who will decide whether these students may continue with their case, and may determine whether their claims of unlawful discrimination are valid. The Berlin Administrative Court, in which the case will be heard, took the highly unusual step of announcing that a substantive hearing will take place. Following the announcement, the students’ lawyer, with whom the Justice Initiative has been working closely to develop the case, began receiving inquiries from the press. Indications are that the hearing tomorrow will be well-attended, including by at least one local film crew. This amount of media attention is virtually unprecedented for an administrative hearing, and seems to indicate the salience of this issue in Berlin right now.
Reactions to the validity of the case in media reports are starkly different. The mayor of Neukölln, where the litigation was filed, dismissed the complaint in a commentary on the bild.de website, under a headilne that translates roughly as: “This is the most insane case filed all year.”
But Berlin's Tagesspiegel gave extensive coverage to the case, including a comment from a Green Party spokesman, roughly translated: “I am glad that finally students are complaining.”
Even if the outcome of the hearing is negative, the case remains an important illustration of how difficult it is in Berlin, and nationally, for students and parents to challenge discrimination they experience in the education system, directly and in a meaningful way.
The students filed this case because they had no other means to challenge their relegation to lower level schooling. On November 1, the Justice Initiative will host a symposium in Berlin to highlight the ongoing problem of discrimination against students from a migrant background in Germany’s schools.