MANDALAY — The dismissal of two kindergarten students with a genetic blood disorder from a private school in Mandalay became the talk of the town over the weekend after their upset parents published the expulsion letter on Facebook.
The private school, Victory Education Center (VEC), ordered the two children to be withdrawn from the school on June 11 on the grounds that it could not provide proper care for them, sparking criticism from the parents, as the 2018-19 academic year was just beginning.
The two boys suffer from G6PD deficiency, which affects red blood function and can cause a type of anemia, usually after exposure to certain foods or medications.
The parents said they had informed the class teacher and school head about their children’s health conditions and asked that they be aware of the food that children with G6PD deficiency must avoid. They were then surprised by the school’s decision to return their tuition fees and dismiss their sons from the school.
“We requested they not expel our sons, but the teachers said it was the decision of their head and that we could do nothing,” said Daw Nan Nwe Ni Soe, the mother of one of the students.
According to the parents, the two boys had attended the classes since June 4 and their forced withdrawal had upset them greatly. The parents sent a complaint letter to the Ministry of Education’s Mandalay regional office on June 13, demanding action be taken against the school for allegedly discriminating against the students.
“We sent the complaint not to hurt the reputation of the school but to make sure no discrimination takes place in the future and so that the many other schools out there learn from this case and are made aware about the health of their students,” Daw Nan Nwe Ni Soe said.
According to the regional office of the Ministry of Education in Mandalay, discriminating against students on the grounds of a health condition, race or religion is not allowed at any school or university, including private sector institutions, and the private school was issued a warning on June 15 and urged to take back the children.
When contacted for comment, school officials said they had already issued a statement on their official Facebook page and that they had no further comments to make.
The statement issued on Saturday said the school did not remove the two kindergarten pupils because of their specific health condition, but because the school was afraid it could not provide proper care for them.
“(The reason for) returning the students to their parents was not because the children have a G6PD deficiency, but because we are afraid we could not provide the detailed care that the parents requested,” the statement said.
In its statement, the school also said that it had contacted the parents to discuss taking back the students, however, one set of parents said their child had already been accepted to another school while the other parents did not answer their calls.
However, the parents disputed the care guidelines were overly demanding, saying they had only provided a list of foods that their children should avoid and explained some facts about G6PD deficiency.
“When we told them our son has a G6PD deficiency, the teachers said they didn’t know about it and so we’ve explained a bit about it to them. Maybe they thought we were requesting they give too much special care to our children,” Daw Nan Nwe Ni Soe said.
“Actually, we only gave health information about our sons and requested the school inform the parents if there’s something wrong with the child.”
Human rights and child rights activists condemned the action of the private school for kicking out the two students based on their health issues.
“Dismissing the students because of a health issue is unacceptable. This is not a disease that could infect or harm others. The dismissal will greatly affect the mental health of the two students,” said U Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, a non-governmental human rights organization. “A child at this age can easily understand why he was not allowed to go to the same school, and knows how to avoid things that could trigger his health condition. So, dismissal from school due to their health issues could traumatize them.”
The activist said that the incident highlighted the lack of knowledge about health issues and poor health support provided in schools across the country, where teachers “only emphasize producing excellent students, their good teaching methods and the fame of their school.”
“Education should not be focused only on the learning abilities of the student, but also needs to take care of their health. Since the students spend most of their time in the school, the teachers also have to share the responsibilities with the parents for those children who need special health care,” U Aung Myo Min said.
“They already have instructions from the Ministry of Education to accept the students, even those who live with HIV. This is the practice of government schools and the private sector also needs to follow the rule,” he added.
G6PD deficiency is an inherited condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, or G6PD. The enzyme helps red blood cells function normally. Deficiency in G6PD enzyme can cause hemolytic anemia, which occurs when red blood cells are destroyed faster than the body can replace them, usually after exposure to certain medications, foods, or bacterial or viral infections.
People with G6PD deficiency have to avoid eating fava beans, the main food that triggers hemolytic anemia, or inhaling pollen from fava plants.
Certain medications such as some antibiotics and medications used to treat malaria, certain analgesics such as aspirin, medications which include sulpha, high doses of Vitamin C, methylene blue, naphthalene balls and menthol are potentially harmful to people with G6PD deficiency.
The condition is common in certain parts of Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, where males are affected more than females. Some are diagnosed in early childhood or as newborns, while some never have any symptoms and do not know they have the deficiency until a blood test is done.
The symptoms of this type of anemia include paleness, jaundice, dark urine, fatigue, shortness of breath, and a rapid heart rate.
If a person with G6PD deficiency carefully avoids the medicines and foods that could trigger hemolytic anemia, the person is as healthy as a normal person, with no effects on their physical or mental health.