LEXTAL’s Public Law team has once again won a significant case regarding the determination of the local school in Tallinn against the Tallinn Education Department. Behind this successful outcome were LEXTAL Partner Margus Reiland and Lawyer Mats Volberg.
The situation started with a sister and a brother going to first grade in the fall, with one of them successfully passing the entrance exams for Tallinn 21st School, while the other child did not. Tallinn 21st School is the closest school to both children, located about 500 meters from their home. Naturally, the parents applied for the second child to be admitted to the same school based on the regional principal, but their request was not taken into account in the decision-making process.

In this regard, the Tallinn Education Department followed its usual automated process, compiling a list of children for whom Tallinn 21st School was the closest and whose parents wanted them to attend that school. Since there were more applicants than available spots (a total of 170 applications but only 89 spots), the ranking was based on Tallinn City Government Regulation No. 132, which favored children whose residential data in the population register was older. As a result, one child was excluded from the list of accepted students at Tallinn 21st School. Here, an error becomes apparent, as both the law and Regulation No. 132 clearly state that proximity to the child’s residence and consideration of whether another child from the same family is already attending the same school should be taken into account first. Since one child had successfully passed the exams and secured a place at the school, the same should have been considered for the second child from the same family.

The Tallinn Education Department either accidentally disregarded the fact that these two children are siblings or misinterpreted that the sibling criterion only applies when one of the children is older and has already been attending the same school. In either case, the officials were negligent, or their system was poorly designed, as it failed to identify that the children were from the same family. Another possibility is that the officials might have been overly formalistic and strictly interpreted the wording, requiring the second child from the same family to have already attended the school in the past. However, such an interpretation needs to respect the purpose of the law, which aims to facilitate better work-family balance. When children attend the same school, it simplifies daily routines for parents and provides a safer school experience for the children. To achieve these goals, situations where siblings start their school journey simultaneously should also be considered.

It is reasonable that the City of Tallinn needs to apply additional criteria for determining the local school in cases where many children live near popular schools. Considering the residence data based on the timeline in the population register (thus favoring those with older residential data) may initially seem like a fair criterion, as it is clear and straightforward while also benefiting local families who have lived near the school for a longer time. However, this method entails two significant problems: it needs to be more predictable and transparent for parents and effectively restricts their mobility. Every parent knows the date of their child’s residential data in the registry, but they need to know where they stand in the ranking compared to others. Therefore, parents cannot anticipate whether their child will be admitted to the local school or not. An even more critical issue is that such an evaluation standard essentially imposes mobility restrictions on the family. The family cannot move to a new residence within the same school district because that would reset the age of their residential data in the population register, automatically placing them at the bottom of the ranking.