The lower house of the Polish Parliament, the Sejm, has approved this Thursday a project to reform the educational law that reinforces the control of the State over schools and the extracurricular educational contents that are taught in them. With the new norm, the Executive seeks to eliminate content from schools that does not conform to the ideas of the ultra-conservative Government of Law and Justice (PiS, in its acronym in Polish), and especially those related to sex education, according to its detractors. The Minister of Education and Science, Przemysław Czarnek, argues that the state must be able to block anything that poses “a threat to the morality of children.”
The draft text, known as Lex Czarnek by the last name of the minister, was approved by the Council of Ministers in November, and after several delays, it was put to the vote this Thursday. The law, which has generated protests from groups of teachers and organizations that defend LGTBI rights, gives more power to the school superintendents, regional managers who report directly to the ministry. With the reform, this figure in the Polish educational system will be able to censor content and extracurricular activities taught by NGOs, about which the directors of the centers will be obliged to inform him and request authorization. Superintendents will also have powers to influence the election of directors and to dismiss them.
In the parliamentary debate this Wednesday on the eve of the vote, the minister defended the centralization of the educational system. He argued that due to the “lack of supervision, schools are politicized” and that the intention of the law is to “depoliticize” them, according to statements picked up by the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. “The State has a duty to protect the child,” he said.
The minister is known for his homophobic and sexist statements, such as the ones he did on public television in a debate: “Let’s stop listening to this crap about human rights. This people [en referencia a las personas LGTBI] They are not the same as normal people.” He has also called on schools to focus on teaching girls “feminine virtues,” according to Reuters.
Schools are going through a moment of crisis, as explained by telephone Iga Kazimierczyk, pedagogue and president of the Espacio para la Educación foundation. Teachers are leaving their jobs, salaries are low, and in the wake of the pandemic, students are experiencing social, emotional, and behavioral problems. In the Polish educational system, NGOs are key in providing activities that complement the educational curriculum with civic content and help in times of crisis and conflict. The reform of the law, which stipulates that permission to superintendents must be processed two months in advance, makes organization difficult in schools, which lose their autonomy. In addition, even if parents and teachers agree on the contents, the ministry intermediary can veto them.
“It may not seem like something serious or dangerous, but with the government we have, it is a serious risk,” says Kazimierczyk. “What the law introduces is a mechanism, but behind it is the intention to eliminate the teaching of human rights, sexual education and the rights of the LGTBI collective, and non-discrimination,” he continues.
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In return, the ministry wants to impose a compulsory subject called History and Present, with “content taken from the PiS narrative”, which includes topics such as its vision of the EU, Catholicism, John Paul II, etc. “It’s not neutral at all, and education should be,” says the activist from the Citizens for Education movement. “Schools will go back to being like in the 60s and 70s [en la época comunista], a place where official messages from the Government will be passed on to the students”, he laments. “They will serve to park children, not to contribute to making a better world.”
“Students who are part of the LGTBI community are afraid because they are going to be left alone, unable to talk to anyone,” says Dominik Kuc, a young activist who has been developing the classification of inclusive schools in Poland since 2018 and is a member of a NGO that works in the field of education and diversity. “It will be impossible to offer information on non-discrimination or interventions when necessary,” he denounces in a telephone conversation, and stresses that in Poland “the LGTBI community is completely erased from the educational curriculum.” For Remy Bonny, from Forbidden Colours, a European organization for the defense of LGTBI rights, “this law is a light version” of what are known as anti-LGBI propaganda laws in Hungary and Russia.
Before the law, which has been in public debate for some time, was approved, its effects began to be felt in the educational system. Last year, at the behest of the superintendent of the Malopolska region, and the local authorities, the principal of the Dobczyce primary school was fired. as published ONET, the reason was the organization of a talk on the Constitution of Judge Waldemar Żurek, who has become a figure in Poland for his defense of the rule of law, which has cost him 12 disciplinary proceedings.
After passing through the Sejm, the law must be debated and voted on in the Senate, which is expected to reject it. The final decision will rest with ultra-conservative President Andrzej Duda, who is expected to support her. During his election campaign, Duda promised to “defend children from LGTBI ideology.”