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School's intoxicant-free programme places pupils in unequal positions

 30.8.2010

The intoxicant-free programme run by the Municipality of Laukaa's Vihtavuori School is problematic from the perspective of equality between pupils and the cost-free character of basic education, finds Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja.

Tripartite agreement between pupil, home and school

A programme called Selvä Sopimus (Sober Contract), in which home and school try to encourage pupils to keep away from intoxicants while they are in the upper grades (7-9) of the comprehensive school, has been running in Vihtavuori School since 1999. The pupil commits not to use intoxicants, the parents undertake to pay for a week-long foreign trip for their child or to give some other reward and the school participates in arranging the trip.

The complaint was made by a mother who was annoyed at the contract terms. Parents were urged to pay their child money to stay away from tobacco and alcohol for as long as they were attending the upper grades of the comprehensive school. In the same conjunction, the school also gave parents guidelines on how to encourage children by paying them for taking out the garbage, beating carpets and other household chores.

The mother comments that the operational model violates equality between children, because parents' level of wealth varies. She has informed the school principal that many parents find it difficult to get together the sum of money needed for a foreign trip. The mother also took the view that activities should have been arranged in the form of a camp school.

Preventive intoxicant work is important

The Deputy-Ombudsman notes in his decision that preventive intoxicant work is in itself positive if it is possible with it to support and promote the child's own choices towards healthy ways of life. Good cooperation between school and home can also contribute to preventing problem use of intoxicants.

The contract model is open to interpretation

Factors that are open to interpretation are, however, associated with the Vihtavuori School's Sober Contract model. If a foreign trip is a camp school arranged by the school, collection of funds must be voluntary for pupils and parents, and that it can not be demanded of parents that they pay the travel costs. If, on the other hand, the trip is not included in the school's teaching plan, it ought to be arranged outside of the school's working time.

According to the Deputy-Ombudsman, the Sober Contract has factually been an activity of Vihtavuori School. This is reflected by the fact that a teacher has participated in foreign trips on working time. Only 25% of pupils have gone on trips, although nearly all of them have concluded an intoxicant free contract. The others have attended school normally while the trips were being made.

Guardian bears primary responsibility for upbringing

The school has gone in its Sober Contract model also further than the sphere of its pedagogical tasks extends. It has given parents guidelines on the child's leisure activities and required them to report to the school on these. However, it is the guardian who bears the primary responsibility for his or her child's upbringing and leisure time.

Additional info will be provided by Principal Legal Adviser Jorma Kuopus, tel. +358 9 4321.