The French-speaking community in Belgium, represented by the Cocof, has launched a legal challenge to a new rule introduced by its Flemish counterpart that increases the quota for children from Dutch-speaking homes competing for places in Flemish schools.
The three language communities in Belgium – Dutch, French and German – are represented in certain matters by organs distinct from the regions, with authority on matters such as education and culture. The Cocof – the commission for the French-speaking community, claims the new Flemish education decree represents a conflict of interests.
The Flemish parliament this week approved a measure which would make it easier for children from Dutch-speaking homes to find places in Flemish schools. At present, first priority for enrolment goes to brothers and sisters of existing pupils, as well as the children of teachers. Then, of the places remaining, 65% will be reserved for children where Dutch is spoken at home, up from 55% until now. Any places left over are given out on a first come, first served basis.
The Cocof is now bringing a case to the Constitutional Court arguing its interests are under attack in Brussels, where French-speaking parents wish to send their children to Flemish schools to give them the possibility of growing up bilingual. Given the limited number of Flemish schools in the capital, parents who are not Dutch-speaking find the number of places for which their children are eligible to be severely limited, and the new quota will make that situation worse.
On the other hand, Dutch-speaking parents have long complained that the lower quota often leaves Dutch-speaking children without places in Brussels schools, forcing them to look in schools outside of the city in the Flemish periphery, with all of the problems that entails for transport and child-care out of school hours.
The new quota was approved by the education committee of the Flemish parliament in December last year, but the Cocof issued a protest under the rule of conflict of interest, which allows for one legislative body to contest a decision by another if its interests are compromised. That allows for a period of time for a solution to be agreed, but that time limit ran out on Wednesday. The Flemish parliament immediately passed the change, which will come into force from the start of the new school year in September, unless the Constitutional Court rules otherwise.