VILNIUS - An attempt to oust a pregnant teacher from her position has outraged society on the eve of the new school year, drawing attention to both women's rights and the state education system.
Parents of first-graders at Vilnius' Jono Basanavicius secondary school reportedly decided to get rid of a teacher for one reason 's because she was pregnant.
Having learned that the teacher was soon expecting a baby, the parents decided that their children would undergo psychological trauma when, after just a few months of instruction by one teacher, they would receive another.
Asta Buckiuniene, 30, told journalists that she was uneasy with the parents the first time they met. After the teacher described the year's curriculum, the parents immediately raised questions about the program. The subsequent discussion took an unexpected course, with one mother openly asking when Buckiuniene expected to give birth and when she would be back from maternity leave.
Immediately after the meeting, the same woman called Buckiuniene to tell her that the parents had collectively decided to ask the school administration to substitute the pregnant pedagogue.
In their opinion, the teacher's childbearing and maternity leave could cause stress for seven-year-old children.
"This was the first time in my life that I felt I was being looked upon as a commodity, not a person," Buckiuniene was quoted as saying.
Although the parents haven't submitted an official appeal to replace Buckiuniene, they requested a meeting with the school principal to specify their demands.
Alarmed by the incident, Equal Opportunities Ombudsman Ausrine Burneikiene said she would intervene into the matter if the parents issue an official request to have the teacher replaced.
"Such behaviour violates the law of equal gender opportunity. At the same time, this suggests to children that a pregnant woman is a disaster, and that pregnancy obstructs a woman from properly fulfilling her work," Burneikiene told the daily Lietuvos rytas.
According to Lithuanian legal framework, parents have the right to choose a school for their children, but not a teacher. They may request one or another instructor, but the school ultimately decides.
Naturally, most parents want young, healthy and cheerful teachers who don't have children or grandchildren.
Since virtually none want a spinster, many often joke that, according to Lithuanian parents' requirements, the best teacher would be a young nun with the face and voice of an angel who was protected from disease and disasters by the good Lord himself.
During a press conference in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament), Social Democrat MP Birute Vesaite urged society "to demand retribution and prevent Lithuania from tolerating such behaviour."
"This is a sinister example of intolerance. What should the teacher do now 's does she have to give up her job?" the MP asked.
It is very sad, Vesaite added, that such cases occur in Lithuania, especially since the initiative rose from mothers who were once pregnant themselves.
Child psychology experts commented that, although some children at this age may be sad and long for an absent teacher, a change of face wouldn't constitute a traumatic event.
Pregnancy, psychologists concluded, cannot serve as a reason to dismiss a teacher.
For a country where birth rates are in constant decline, such incidents do little good in promoting pregnancy 's in fact, rather the opposite: they imply that a pregnant woman is a tragedy, sociologists said.
This is the second case in a month where people have raised concerns about the image of pregnant women in Lithuania. Last week, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman opened the case of a pregnant woman who was offended by a diet-pill advertisement.
"We decided to start an investigation to find out whether the advertisement is discriminating against women," said Valdas Dambrava, the institution's public relations officer.
The young woman who filed the complaint in early August said the New Nordic advertisement was an offence to all pregnant women.
The slogan of the advertisement states: "I looked like I was pregnant," and is followed by the story of a woman who found happiness after losing weight with the help of the diet pills.
Pregnant women said the advertisement suggests that pregnancy is a burden, while the marketing department of New Nordic's Lithuanian office countered that the ad was based on true stories and was aimed at overweight people 's not pregnant women.