In Catalonia, family under police protection after winning case on Spanish language in schools

A ruling involving a five-year-old’s right to a bilingual education has triggered social media harassment against her and her parents, who say it’s time to stop yielding

Inmersión lingüística Cataluña
Graffiti in favor of the Catalan linguistic immersion program at Turó del Drac school in Barcelona.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

A family from Catalonia that fought in the courts to secure some Spanish-language classes for their young child is under police protection after being harassed on social media by defenders of an all-Catalan education.

The Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, has stationed officers outside Turó del Drac elementary school in Canet de Mar (Barcelona), which the five-year-old attends, to prevent any abuse against her or her family at the start and end of the school day. No physical harassment has been reported so far.

The issue of language at school is a politically sensitive one and Catalan nationalist governments have long defended a system where the Catalan language is generally considered the “vehicular language,” or primary language of instruction, for all subject matter except the Spanish language class and foreign language classes.

The decision to provide protection was made on Friday by the Mossos and by the Barcelona Prosecutor’s Office, police and legal sources told EL PAÍS. “The family has been offered protection in case there is any tense situation,” said one legal source familiar with the matter. Also on Friday, there was a demonstration near the child’s school where around 250 people marched in support of an all-Catalan education, including several nationalist politicians.

Inmersion linguistica Cataluña
Demonstrators marched on Friday in Canet de Mar (Barcelona) in support of an all-Catalan education. Albert Garcia (EL PAÍS)

Prosecutors are also investigating possible hate crimes after the family received threats on Twitter. “Count me in for throwing stones at this child’s house. They should get out of Catalonia,” wrote Jaume Fàbrega, a former lecturer at Barcelona’s Autonomous University, who later said he had only meant it metaphorically.

And Albert Donaire, a member of the Catalan police force who is very active on social media with pro-independence messages, wrote that “this child has to be left all alone in the classroom. During Spanish-language classes, the other children should walk out.”

An association named Hablamos Español (We Speak Spanish) and the far-right party Vox have filed crime reports based on the content of the Twitter messages.

In an open letter published on Monday, the parents asked to remain anonymous and explained what it feels like to be the target of social media harassment. “To feel the hate, the intimidation, the threats, the fingers pointing at you, it’s very tough. We’ve felt like crying many times,” read the letter.

Nobody wants to be a hero (certainly not us). We just want to be parents!
Open letter by the family under police protection

The parents also urged people who have privately shown them support to do so in public in order to break through the social pressure. “We need to stop yielding all the time, we have to be able to show courage and speak our minds, to stand up for ourselves and to democratically defend our rights,” the letter stated. “Nobody wants to be a hero (certainly not us). We just want to be parents! But for our society to be free, we need to overcome this spiral of silence that we have created ourselves.”

The family came under the spotlight shortly after the Supreme Court confirmed an earlier ruling by the regional High Court of Catalonia (TSJC) forcing public schools to offer at least 25% of class hours in Spanish. Based on this new case law, when the family made its request, the TSJC in early December imposed 25% of classes in Spanish at the child’s school as a precautionary measure – a final decision has not been made yet. For as long as this measure remains in place, the child and her classmates must receive 25% of all classes in Spanish.

Catalan nationalists are upset because the move potentially represents a blow to Catalonia’s linguistic immersion program, which has been in place since 1983 despite several adverse rulings over the years by both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.

Over the years, this model has found broad support inside the regional parliament from separatist and leftist parties. The education community has largely stood behind the system as well.

But there are around 80 families who have successfully fought in the courts over the years for the right to at least 25% of hours of education in Spanish, according to the Catalan government’s data, although in practice this has had little effect.

Following the Supreme Court’s most recent decision in late November, the Catalan government, which is run by a separatist coalition, sent a letter to 5,108 school principals advising them not to change their linguistic programs. And Maite Aymerich, the education official in charge of enforcing the 25% rule, quit a few days after the ruling became public.

But the Assembly for a Bilingual School, a parent association that has taken legal action to defend greater choice in the language of instruction at schools, applauded the court’s decision in a statement: “The end of linguistic immersion is here. We will not renounce our linguistic rights. It’s time to change the education model.”

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