POLITICS

Spain’s political parties lock horns over far-right Vox’s ‘parental veto’

The controversial policy from the group would give parents the right to stop their children from attending workshops on issues such as homophobia and sex education

The policy applies to complementary activities in school hours.
The policy applies to complementary activities in school hours.C. Ribas

A policy from the far-right Spanish political party Vox is causing heated debate over education and the rights of children. Dubbed by Vox as the “parental pin,” the policy gives parents the right to stop their children from attending complementary workshops organized during school hours. The measure means that schools will need to ask for parents’ permission to give “talks, workshops or activities with an ideological or moral leaning against their convictions,” according to the text of policy. This includes talks on sex education and LGBTQ+ rights.

In Murcia, it is up to schools to establish what kind of authorization is asked for

The debate over the policy broke out last week after Vox said that it would not support the budget in Spain’s south-eastern region of Murcia unless the parental veto was included in the educational program. The regional government of Murcia is controlled by a coalition between the conservative Popular Party (PP) and center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) but depends on Vox’s support – it cannot pass the budget without a vote from one of the far-right group’s four regional lawmakers.

Although Ciudadanos initially said the parental veto was a “red line” that it would not agree to, the party ceded to the far-right party’s demand, reaching an agreement with Vox and the PP that states that families will need to give their “express authorization” to allow their children to participate in complementary activities.

The agreement, however, does not change the current state of education in Murcia. In June last year, Vox agreed to vote for Fernando López Miras, of the PP, as the premier of Murcia, in exchange for having the parental veto introduced in the region. In August, the regional education department issued an order to all educational centers – from primary to secondary school – indicating that family permission was needed for complementary activities in school hours.

Since then, it has been up to schools to establish what kind of authorization is asked for, how it reaches families and if no reply can be taken as a refusal.

Opposition

The measure has received widespread criticism from the governing Socialist Party (PSOE) and anti-austerity Unidas Podemos. The government delegate for gender violence, Victoria Rosell, suggested that the introduction of the parental pin could warrant the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. This measure,  which was put into action in 2017 in the wake of the Catalan independence drive, would see regional powers suspended in Murcia and the central government in Madrid take charge.

“Imagine an [Article] 155 in Murcia because they have denied the right to treat all students equally or to guarantee the right of the most vulnerable people,” Rosell, who is from Unidas Podemos, told the Spanish radio station Cadena Ser on Monday.

Rosell later clarified in a message on Twitter that the statement was intended to be ironic.

Meanwhile, eight regional education ministers from the PSOE signed a document on Monday that accused Vox of using the parental veto to “break school harmony and the culture of dialogue to impose blind and uncritical authoritarianism.”

Are they telling me that we have families like in Cuba, that children belong to the revolution?

PP leader Pablo Casado

Education Minister Isabel Celaá, of the PSOE, also warned last week that the ministry will appeal the measure in court on the basis that it “seeks to undermine the right to education and censor the actions of educational centers and their professors.” According to the education minister, the parental veto goes against the “integral training of students” outlined in Article 1 of the Education Law.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Correo, published on Sunday, Celaá said that a “homophobic family [...] does not have the right to make their children homophobic as well.” “Parental authority cannot be confused with property,” she added.

Celaá’s claim that children are not the property of their parents was attacked by the leader of the PP, Pablo Casado, who linked the argument with communism.

“Are they telling me that we have families like in Cuba, that children belong to the revolution?” he said on Sunday. “Are we going to arrive at the point where children inform on their parents if they are not good revolutionaries?

Casado, who supports the parental veto, added that the controversy was being used as a “smokescreen” to distract from the recent debate over the government’s naming of former justice minister, Dolores Delgado, as prosecutor general.

Response of parents and schools

The parental veto has raised many complaints from parents and teachers in Murcia. “There are many children who forget to bring the permission to their parents and we cannot exclude them from activities,” said Mariola Sanz, the director of an association of infant and secondary schools in the region.

“In the case that a family member does not give their consent, this child has to be assigned another teacher and space,” she explained, adding that the regional government has not provided more resources to cover these situations.

While the regional education department said the parental veto was a “growing demand of parents,” Sanz believes parents “don’t understand why they have to be supervising what the school has considered interesting for the education of their children.”

Óscar Sánchez, the father of two children who go to a public school near Murcia city, described the measure as “absurd.” “We complained to the school but they told us that they didn’t want problems with the authorities and that they had to follow the order.” According to Sánchez, the veto is a political fight that “has crept into the school” and only created more bureaucracy.

With reporting by Virginia Vadillo, Ana Torres Menárguez and Natalia Junqueras.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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