Spain

Is the right of parents to choose an educational center at risk?

The Minister of Education of the incumbent government, Isabel Celaá, has irritated employers and educational associations by calling into question the freedom of education of Article 27 of the Constitution, and a socialist argument has subordinated the choice of center to what the State determines, creating even more legal uncertainty.

Rafael Miner-December 10, 2019-Reading time: 6 minutes

Following the inauguration of the Catholics and Public Life Congress by Cardinal Robert Sarah, with a lecture on The importance of education in the mission of the Church today, the meeting of the San Pablo CEU University and the congresses of the Catholic Schools (EC) and the Spanish Confederation of Teaching Centers (CECE), were to enter into a demanding dynamic, but along the lines of a relative professional normality.

Normality for the planned topics, but relative because the expectation has increased this year, taking into account the ups and downs in the formation of the new government after the elections of November 10. 

The politics of pacts had foreshadowed a few intense weeks of negotiations, as happened in previous months, but not as much expectation as that raised by some major events. In the first place, the rapid pre-agreement reached between the acting Socialist president, Pedro Sánchez, and the leader of the United Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias. 

And secondly, as was pointed out at a round table of political representatives at the CEU congress, it seemed that Minister Celaá had accepted the role of making a statement. "high-flown" to raise the temperature of debates and reactions in the sector. And if that was not its aim, it did: the fuse was lit on the 14th, and as this issue of the magazine goes to press, it is still smoldering, leaving a trail of uncertainty as to what may happen in the near future.

What did the minister say?

The government spokeswoman, Isabel Celaá, lashed out against subsidized education and the rights of parents during the congress of Escuelas Católicas, which brings together 1.4 million students out of a total of almost 2.1 million in subsidized schools in Spain.

In her speech before two thousand people, by surprise, and provoking numerous murmurs, the minister questioned the freedom of parents to choose an educational center and the religious or moral teaching they wish for their children. It was exactly like that: "In no way can it be said that the right of parents to choose a religious education or to choose an educational center could be part of the freedom of education. Those facts, those of choosing centers, will be part of the rights that parents and mothers may have under the legal conditions to be determined, but they are not a strict emanation of the freedom recognized in Article 27 of the Spanish Constitution".

Celaá's words caused deep concern among the organizers of the event, Escuelas Católicas, and in view of the subsequent communiqué from the MinistryI wonder why this insistence on proving that the right of parents to choose a center is not a constitutional right. Are they considering restricting this right recognized in the socialist laws? said Luis Centeno, deputy secretary general of EC. Centeno also recalled that the subsidized centers located in the Valencian Community and Aragon have suffered in recent years the harassment of joint governments of PSOE and Podemos-Compromís.

CECE, on the other hand, expressed in a quick communiqué its "concern about the intention of the Minister of Education to curtail the constitutional freedom of choice of educational center", and noted that "it is difficult to imagine freedom of education without freedom of school choice". He also cited Article 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "that parents shall have a preferential right to choose the type of education to be given to their children. Logically, -added CECE, we do not speak of absolute freedom of choice of center, as the Ministry's note last night points out, nor have we asked for an à la carte private school, as the Minister herself sometimes says, we only say that they cannot close private classrooms that have equal or more demand than the average in their environment, as supported by numerous rulings over the last decades"..

A slip of the tongue?

On the afternoon of the 14th, the secretary general of the EEC, Monsignor Luis Argüello, gave the head of Education a graceful exit, when he said that it could have been a "lapsus". According to the magazine Ecclesia, said the following: "Article 27 of the Constitution, read in its 10 points, is the basic expression of the educational pact in Spain with three pillars: the right to education, freedom of education and the right of parents. We hope that, in the context of the cordial tone of the minister's greeting, the exclusion of the right of parents was a slip of the tongue. If this were not the case, it would mean a turn in educational policy of extraordinary gravity for the right of parents and the freedom of education in such a plural society that requires common educational bases and a development in accordance with the convictions of families and their social initiative, in the public space that the Administrations must guarantee in accordance with the Constitution and the international Treaties signed by the State".

Alfonso Aguiló, president of CECE, has written on twitter these days, at the closing of this edition of Palabra: "It is becoming clear that it was not a slip of the tongue. In this argument there are many totally unfounded assertions". He refers to the document reported by abc.es, entitled: "The PSOE launches an argument in which it makes the choice of center subject to what the state determines." They can easily find it. While the minister claims "peace of mind" to families, the future educational administration intends to abolish "social demand", i.e., parental preferences, adds the same newspaper. 

Ammunition for the CEU congress

The declarations of the Minister of Education were the object of numerous critical considerations, with express mentions, or reinforcing and arguing in multiple ways the rights of parents, during the sessions of the Congress of Catholics and Public Life, which this year had as its title precisely "Freedom to educate, freedom to choose". 

At the opening ceremony, Alfonso Bullón de Mendoza, president of the Catholic Association of Propagandists (ACdP) and of the San Pablo CEU University Foundation, stated that "the State is not, in today's Spain, the holder of the right to education, but rather its guarantor, but there is a danger that, as in so many other areas, the State may want to extend its sphere of action".. Almost in parallel, he had the opportunity to broaden his thinking in Alpha and Omegawhere he pointed out in a wide-ranging interview that "The state tends to regulate everything in education." and that, in his opinion, "the real possibility of choosing a center is still non-existent".

Archbishop Fidel Herráez, Archbishop of Burgos and National Consiliary of ACdP, recalled the principle of subsidiarity, which implies the primacy of the person and society over the State, and the director of the Congress, Rafael Sánchez Saus, emphasized that "there can be no freedom of education if parents cannot choose the educational center for their children".

As if the barrage of arguments coming at Minister Celaá were not enough, the chargé d'affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature, Msgr. Michael F. Crotty, delivered a message from Pope Francis to those present, and emphasized that "education works when the family is left to exercise its rights and obligations, since the educational task and religious convictions are largely the responsibility of the parents".

Cardinal Robert Sarah had pointed out days earlier: "Now, more than ever, the baptized must be aware that education is at the heart of the new evangelization. The Church possesses treasures on the art of educating. Do we dare to draw on it to respond to the challenges of our time and, above all, to respond to God's calls?"

Institutions up to the challenge

The President of the European Federation 'One of UsMayor Oreja, described as a "extreme gravity" the words of Isabel Celaá, in particular "for their symbolism, for what they have of anticipation of a cultural attitude of the next government of the popular front, populist, nationalist.". The former minister called for a more exemplary family environment and educational and cultural institutions. "that are commensurate with the extreme difficulty in which the values and convictions we stand for"..

The following speech was designed around constitutional rights. Its title, significant, Freedom of education: the fundamental right still on holdand its authors, the rector of the Cardenal Herrera University of Valencia, Vicente Navarro de Luján, and José Manuel Amiguet, secretary general of the same university, moderated by the dean of Humanities of the CEU, María Solano. 

Navarro de Luján analyzed Articles 16 and 27 of the Magna Carta, "intimately related to each other", and recalled that the model of education promoted by the Second Republic -a single public, secular and free school "it would go against fundamental principles of our Constitution and our legal system.".

José Manuel Amiguet, for his part, reported on a survey conducted by the consulting firm GFK for the YoLibre.org platform, according to which 64 % of Spaniards consider that there is not enough freedom of teaching and education, while 80 % of those surveyed consider the right to freedom of education to be very relevant. 

The final Manifesto of the Congress, read by Carla Díez de Rivera, called on all citizens to "guaranteeing and defending freedom of education"term that "It encompasses a set of freedoms such as the freedom to create centers, the freedom of educational model, the freedom to choose the religious and moral formation of children -in accordance with the parents' convictions- and academic freedom". 

In addition, the text specifies that "the ideology of the educational center is the core element of the freedom of education, not reduced only to the choices of religious and moral formation, but also to the pedagogical and organizational choices".

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