Polish parliament to debate bill to step up govt control of schools

FILE PHOTO: Children take part in a lesson after schools reopened in Warsaw
FILE PHOTO: Children take part in a lesson after schools reopened for grades 1-3 amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Warsaw, Poland, May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

January 12, 2022

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers are expected to debate on Wednesday a nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party bill that critics say could curb access to teaching on LGBT and reproductive rights and give the ruling PiS more control over schools.

The PiS says changes in the education system are needed to protect children but opponents say it’s part of a wider effort to eliminate liberal values from public life.

Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek has said government-appointed school supervisors should have the right to bloc any programming that would be “a threat to the morality of children”, in particular when it comes to sexual education.

Czarnek once said gay people were “not equal to normal people” and has called for schools to focus on teaching girls about “feminine virtues” while criticising men who wear tight-fitting trousers.

PiS introduced a series of education reforms, pointing to the need to defend traditional Christian values and teach children to be proud of Polish history.

Under the new bill, extracurricular activities run by non-governmental organisations in schools would need to be approved by a supervisor. The law would also make it easier to fire school principals.

Critics warn the new regulation would limit the rights of parents to decide on their children’s education.

“It will certainly have a freezing effect,” said Krzysztof Baszczynski, deputy head of the Polish Teachers’ Union.

“If you are running a school, taking decisions (…) and you know someone may not like them, then the autonomy of the school, of the principal, the parents’ and teachers’ autonomy become just fiction.”

Local media have reported that a primary school principal had been suspended last year for organising a meeting with judges who spoke about the constitution.

Czarnek has also announced plans to introduce a new subject, “history and the present,” which would cut the time spent on civic education to focus on events from 1945 to 2015.

Students are to be required to discuss “the instability of the euro zone” and explain why the 2010 Smolensk air crash in which president Lech Kaczynski, the twin brother of PiS leader Jaroslaw, died, was “the greatest tragedy in the history of post-war Poland”.

Ryszard Terlecki, a ruling party parliament speaker, had said in 2020 that school reforms should result in students being better oriented in reality and true to tradition, which would lead them to vote for PiS.

“Education should result in young Poles being patriots, and if they are, they will certainly vote,” he told private broadcaster TVN24 last week.

(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Michael Perry)