Ombudsman Takes Stand in Relation to Assessment of Leave of Absence from School Due to Epidemiological Situation

The proceeding of the school and the school district (the maintainer) concerned caused an impropriety related to the right to fair administration of official matters as well as to the right to legal remedy during the assessment of requests of leave of absence of pupils from school, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights exposed in connection with a complaint. Dr. Ákos Kozma called attention to the fact that in epidemiological situations as in ordinary times, leave of absence due to reasonable causes must be examined on the substance, and parents must be provided adequate information on the state of the matters.

The parents turning to the Ombudsman objected to the fact that the headmaster of a primary school in Esztergom did not make any decision on the basis of their request of leave of absence that they had submitted on behalf of their children in consideration of the epidemiological situation. They also complained that the impropriety suffered by them was not remedied by the school district (the maintainer), as the latter did not re-direct them to the Educational Authority so that they could request a personalized school schedule.

In his report on Case No. AJB-2289/2021, Dr. Ákos Kozma uncovered that the schools maintained by this school district did not publish any anonymized public information on the official infection data of their respective institutions that would have been accessible for all. He stressed that this practice by the maintainer and the particular institutions made it considerably more difficult for the parents to assess the effective risk of infection inherent to school presence, and it hindered them from acquainting themselves with the circumstances of the education of the pupils in good health and safety.

At the same time, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights also found that the headmaster of the school did not make a decision on the subject matter of the first request, while regarding the second request, he failed to formalize his decision to reject the request in writing, so the parents were unable to learn about the considerations that he had weighed when making his decision. The report underlines that the simple reply of the school district, which disregarded all formal, procedural and substantive criteria, did not comply with the statutory requirements applicable to the assessment of parental requests. Similarly to numerous earlier reports, the Ombudsman once again pointed out that this form of the maintainer’s “decision”, that is, the omission to formalize his decision in writing, also excluded the possibility that legal remedy be sought in this particular case.

Based on the above, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights concluded that the proceeding of the school and the school district caused an impropriety related to the complainants’ right to fair administration of official matters and right to legal remedy.

The Ombudsman initiated that in the future, the headmaster of the primary school assess parental requests of leave of absence in a lawful manner, based on their content, and also that in the event of the recurrence of an epidemiological situation, he make the anonymized and continuously updated infection data of the school – such as the number of infected pupils and teachers, classes having switched to digital homeschooling – publicly available. Moreover, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights urged the director of the school district to assess parental requests in accordance with the guarantee rules, and in the event of the recurrence of an epidemiological situation, to take the necessary measures to ensure the anonymized publication of the infection data of the schools maintained by the school district.

For the report, please click on the following link: AJB-2289/2021.