This story has been prominent in the Spanish press this week following comments by a Judge in the Murcia region that parents may face prison term, or even have their children placed into care, if they do not send their children to school in September.
Quite sensationalist stuff and bound to grab the attention of parents concerned, as many are, at the arrangements for recommencing school in what will be most peculiar circumstances at the start of the new school term.
In balancing the report, I think it fair to point out that these punishments are there already, but they are, in 99% of cases, of a threat more than actuality.
For example, we all hear of parents who decide to take their children on holiday outside of term time. Opinion is divided as to whether parents are doing a good job doing so. Some say taking a holiday at the only time a family can afford it, outside of school holidays, is beneficial and outweighs the missed school. Others disagree. But the point is you may hear of slapped wrists, even fines, but such one off actions rarely result in prison or child custody issues. Such extreme punishments are only reserved for the most serious and persistent offenders.
In my opinion the key will be the ‘reasonable explanation of absence’, and we will not know what this means until school starts. For example, a friend of ours has Multiple Sclerosis which places her in a very high risk group. She is very concerned about sending her children to school. Will this be considered a reasonable explanation in a way a simple preference not to send their children into school by a family with no special circumstances would not?
Tough Talk vs Reality
The reality is this. The Government and Judiciary are bound to talk tough at this stage. They have to if they have any chance of ensuring people heed the return to school instructions. However, it seems inevitable to me given the strength of feeling among the high number of people who are saying they will not send their children into school, that they will have to backtrack next week. There is no way whatsoever that in the mist of the current crisis the law courts are going to be putting even 1% of parents into prison, and I feel the number who will not send their children in at the start of term will be higher than that.
It will of course create another huge headache for the Government, but if as I predict will be the case, there is a significant number of people who do keep their children away, it is a headache the Government will have to cure. At a practical level alone, prison sentences will not be an option for the masses.
What I fear will be the case is that whilst they are spinning so many plates their only option will be to put the burden on the teachers. The teachers will then be facing the additional difficulties of teaching in Covid-19 health protocol schools, which will already have huge implications on their time and overall effectiveness in the classroom, and then have to manage some level of home schooling for a proportion of their students too. If this turns out to be the case there is little doubt that our children’s education will suffer across the board, it will not be an issue just for those parents unhappy with the return to school protocols, but one which negatively affects everybody in the education system, most importantly all of the children.
What may come to pass as being of greater importance than threats of punishment, will be the reality of a child being held back a year ‘ as is the norm in Spain if a child is not reaching their expected grades. This is something all parents wish to avoid, and may drive them to seek the most effective way forward for their child’s education whatever environmental controls are in place.
It has to be recognised that for many families all of this will be happening alongside financial insecurity and worries that alone would be enough to test a family’s resolve. One more pandemic burden that is not going to go away anytime soon.
You won’t be going to prison, whatever your decision re school, but our children are all going to suffer, of that there is little doubt.