Castilian Spanish Rules in Catalan Classrooms

    A Catalan court has ruled that if a family in Catalonia wants more hours of instruction in Castilian Spanish, the school must comply. However, the ruling goes on to do more than make differentiated instruction mandatory. According to the court, the entire class will have to be instructed in Spanish upon the request of one student. The ruling comes as a blow to Spain’s autonomous Catalan region, which uses Catalan as the language of instruction in schools.

    This most recent ruling comes after a string of court decisions that left the issue of the language of instruction in Catalonia a legal grey area. The ruling of the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Catalonia (TJSC) clarifies that the student’s right to receive instruction in Castilian Spanish “would not be satisfied with private attention given in Castilian Spanish, but rather with a transformation of the system.”

    Catalan education minister, Irene Rigau, understands the ruling as a global attack on Catalan and stated that the ruling would not be applied in the classroom: “We guarantee the right of every family to ask for individual attention at elementary and primary schools. But that right cannot affect the rights of other families,” she said.

    Meanwhile, the court argued that, “It is known that the fundamental right to education […] does not guarantee the right to choose to receive instruction exclusively in only one of the official languages.” The TJSC pointed out that Catalonia is the only bilingual region of Spain that offers instruction predominantly in one language. In the Basque country, families can choose between three different models each with a different ratio of instruction in two languages.

    The school district in Catalonia reported that only seventeen families requested instruction in Castilian Spanish. Spokesman Josep Maria Cervello remarked, “the ruling won’t even be applied.”

    The ripple effect of this ruling has gone beyond the realm of education into Spanish national politics. In January 2013, Language Magazine reported on the FC Barcelona soccer stars who publicly defended the use of Catalan in schools. Some critics suspect that this most recent ruling was a reaction against raising tension over the issue of Catalan secession from the rest of Spain.

    The TJSC’s ruling is also a contentious issue in the Spanish congress. The Catalan independentist party, Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña, or the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), demanded that all delegates, whether Catalan or not, speak Catalan during congressional sessions in “logical parallelism and fair correspondence” with the TJSC’s ruling. ERC complained that if one delegate requests the use of Catalan in the government, then all must comply.

    The ERC’s request follows an incident in which Catalan congressman Joan Tardá was expelled from a session for addressing the congress in Catalan. Tardá remarked on his party’s request for Catalan in congressional sessions, “It may seem pointless, but it’s pointless here and in Catalonia.”

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