Dutch-speakers not to be given precedence in schools in Flemish municipalities near to the capital

An idea launched by the Flemish Education Minister Hilde Crevits (Christian democrat) to give children from Dutch-speaking families precedence during the enrolment procure for schools in Flemish Brabant municipalities near to Brussels has been shelved. The proposal to give precedence to children from a Dutch-speaking background until a certain quota has been reached is something that is already in force in Dutch-medium schools in the bi-lingual Brussels-Capital Region. However, there would be legal issues if such a system were to be introduced in schools in the monolingual Dutch-speaking municipalities that surround the capital such as Dilbeek, Overijse, Vilvoorde and Tervuren.

Due to the popularity of Dutch-medium education among a growing number of non-Dutch-speaking parents and capacity issues in many Dutch-medium schools in the capital, a growing number of children that attend school in the municipalities that the surround the capital don’t have Dutch as a mother-tongue. Furthermore many of their parents speak little or no Dutch.

Last September the Flemish Government decided to look into how precedence could be given in the school enrolment system to children with at least one Dutch-speaking parent. At the time the Flemish Education Minister Hilde Crevits (Christian democrat) said "The measure is necessary because there is pressure on capacity in the Flemish municipalities on the edge of Brussels and a lot of Francophones enroll their children there”.

Strain on capacity has been caused by an increase in population in the municipalities near to Brussels and by parents from Brussels opting to send their children to schools in Flemish Brabant.

Legal issues

Last week, in response to a parliamentary question Ms Crevits said “The conclusion of the legal advice is that it would not be possible to give Dutch speakers in the municipalities around Brussels precedence”.

Three reasons are given. Firstly, Flanders, unlike Brussels is monolingual. As Brussels is bilingual giving precedence to Dutch-Speaking children wishing to enroll in a Dutch-medium (rather than a French-medium school is not an issue.

However, doing the same in a part of monolingual Flemish Brabant would mean that some schools within Flanders were being treated differently for reason of geography, something that is not allowed under the “equality principle”.

The equality principle decrees that enrolment requirements must be the same at all schools within Flanders regardless of their geographical location. Furthermore, offering preferential treatment to a particular group in a monolingual area could be considered to be discriminatory.