Classrooms stay empty as Balearics teachers strike enters second week

Thousands march against PP premier's new trilingual learning model

Protestors converge on the regional assembly in Palma de Mallorca on Tuesday.
Protestors converge on the regional assembly in Palma de Mallorca on Tuesday.tolo ramón

An unprecedented strike by teaching staff in the Balearic Islands has entered its second week, bringing the public education system to a virtual standstill at the start of the new school year. The sector has taken to the streets to protest against a trilingual learning model imposed by the Popular Party regional government of José Ramón Bauzá, which has demoted the vehicular language, Catalan, in classrooms in favor of English.

The scale of support for the strike is undeniable, with thousands marching in Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentera. A social fund set up to offset the salary losses suffered by striking teachers has raised more than 100,000 euros and renowned Mallorcan artist Miquel Barceló has donated an etching to be auctioned for the cause.

In Ibiza and Formentera the authorities admit a 27-percent following, which labor unions place at 90. In Mallorca, the government claims a 9.5-percent turnout and the strikers 55 percent. In Menorca, the intensity of the strike has lessened. There appears to be no immediate solution on the horizon with both parties holding firm. The government has called the unions to the negotiating table but there is no concrete dialogue aimed at bringing the strike to an end.

A fund set up for lost earnings has raised more than 100,000 euros

Last Friday parents kept their children home and demonstrations were organized Sunday in Palma, Mahón, Ibiza and Formentera. On Tuesday, a large crowd descended on the regional assembly to reiterate its rejection of the new education model, which the regional PP pushed through just before the school year began to avoid a legal wrangle. The Balearics Supreme Court had temporarily suspended the implementation of the decree pending further study.

"It is a serious situation that we have gone a week without classes but the government takes two to three weeks to assign a substitute for an absent teacher," said a spokesman for the strikers. There are 164,000 schoolchildren in the Balearics of whom 54,000 attend private schools, where the strike is not an issue. Around half of the 10,500 teachers in public centers remain on strike.

In every center there is a nucleus of unions and associations that reject the trilingual model, including conservative groups. "We have ended with the imposition of immersion classes and moved toward freedom," said Bauzá, who blames the high drop-out rate (39 percent) on the model, though without statistical support.

The trilingual system is being rolled out in phases, with full implementation envisaged across all age groups within five years.

On Monday, in Porto Cristo, Manacor, just one child turned up for class. In Son Gotleu, Palma, 60 of the usual 300 students answered the roll call. "We are prepared to go on this week and the next," said a teacher Monday. "There is no talk of backtracking; we will continue." While many families support the strike, the PP says there is great social pressure to keep children home and has threatened sanctions for those who do so.

"Some teachers are trying to persuade parents not to bring their children to school," said PP deputy Magda Prohens. "They have an obligation; they are paid a public salary to give classes."

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