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Kazakh Schools Sued For Ending Russian-Language Instruction

Svetlana Orischenko said she and several of her colleagues found out that other schools do not need additional teachers.
TEMIRTAU, Kazakhstan -- Two schools in Kazakhstan are being sued by teachers and parents over their switch from Russian to Kazakh as the language of instruction, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Lawyer Nurkhan Zhumabekov told RFE/RL on July 4 that some 300 people have filed lawsuits against the two schools in the northwestern Kazakh city of Temirtau. He said such a legal action was unprecedented in Kazakhstan.

Zhumabekov said the first hearing in the case was held on July 1 and the total amount in damages sought in the claims against the Temirtau Education Department is about 1 million tenges (about $7,000).

He said the Russian-language school No. 9 and the mixed Kazakh-Russian school No. 16 are to switch to all-Kazakh instruction by September 1, angering many teacher, students, and parents who prefer to have classes taught in Russian.

Some 1,200 schoolchildren who either cannot speak or don't want to have their classes only in Kazakh are expected to move to other schools.

Svetlana Orishenko, a teacher at school No. 9, told RFE/RL that the court refused to accept their lawsuits at first and did so only after having hundreds of suits filed.

Orishenko said she thought city authorities also pressured several lawyers into refusing to represent the plaintiffs.

Temirtau city Judge Aynur Arapova told RFE/RL that the case against the Education Department is at the stage of the lawsuits filed with different courts and judges being brought together.

Orishenko told RFE/RL that according to a law on a change in working conditions, teachers against the changes are supposed to be relocated to other schools.

But she said she and several of her colleagues found out that other schools do not need additional teachers.

A former principal at school No. 9, Valentina Khalanskaya, told RFE/RL that local authorities were avoiding all contact with the teachers who have filed suit.

She added that she thought the decision on the change of languages was done hastily and without proper consideration.

Natalya Shokolova, a teacher at school No. 9, told RFE/RL that according to the last survey done there was no demand for additional Kazakh-language classes in Temirtau.

She added that it would suffice to introduce Kazakh-language classes at the Russian-only schools but it was unnecessary to abolish Russian-language classes.

Bakshagul Rakhimova, the head of Temirtau's Education Department, told RFE/RL last month that having two languages of instruction decreased the quality of education and discriminated against the rights of Kazakh-speaking children.

Rakhimova said both of the schools officially decided on July 1 to switch to Kazakh-language classes because of an increasing number of Kazakh-speaking children and decreasing number of Russian-speaking ones.

She added that a list of new Kazakh-language teachers for those two schools had been created in case current teachers leave the schools.

Rakhimova said the students could decide whether to stay at the schools or to transfer.

Temirtau officials said that among the 31 schools in the city, three have classes taught fully in the Kazakh language, 12 are mixed, and 16 are Russian-speaking.