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Feb 16, 12:28 PM EST

Spanish or Catalan? Planned school policy shift sparks anger


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MADRID (AP) -- Spain's conservative government is considering changes to make it easier for parents in Catalonia to choose Spanish over Catalan as the main language in their children's schooling.

The move, if confirmed, would go against decades of regional policies prioritizing the native Catalan language in classrooms while offering a limited number of lessons in Spanish grammar and literature.

Supporters of an education in Catalan say the current system guarantees equal opportunities in a region where the native language is widely used both socially and professionally.

Both Catalan and Spanish are official and spoken indistinctively, but regional and national authorities have clashed for years over which language should be used in teaching.

Although current laws allow parents to choose, the default option is primary and secondary schooling in Catalan, with only limited numbers of Catalan families completing applications for an education in Spanish. University is generally taught in Catalan but students are allowed to take tests in the language of their choice.

Friday's announcement comes amid the backdrop of an unprecedented political deadlock and after central Spanish authorities began running affairs in the northeastern region in response to October's illegal attempt to break away from Spain.

Catalan separatists accuse the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of taking too far its temporary powers over the region.

"We will do it without doubt," Education Minister Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Friday, referring to the proposed changes in education. "The right of parents to choose the working language for their children is very important."

Catalan separatist politicians and some of the opposition parties at the national level reject the move. Former regional leader Carles Puigdemont wrote a tweet saying that the Spanish government "feeds Spanish nationalism with its right hand and tries to divide Catalan students based on their language."

Puigdemont has been named as the separatists' candidate to form a new government in Catalonia but he can't return from Belgium without facing arrest. He fled to Brussels in October to avoid a judicial investigation into his former cabinet's independence push.

Rajoy, who rejects Puigdemont as Catalan leader, has vowed to keep running the region from Madrid until a new legal and effective government is formed in Catalonia. But that process remains in a limbo amid legal hurdles and factional infighting within the separatist parties.

Friday's announcement was seen by many as a warning shot by central authorities to separatists, urging them to form a government without Puigdemont in order to recover Catalonia's self-government and avoid further reforms in the region's policies.

But Mendez de Vigo, who also acts as the government's spokesman, rejected that claim.

"This is only a measure on behalf of the right of parents to choose which language they want their children to be taught in," he said. "Nothing else."

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