Is there Neutrality in education? “Escola sem Partido” and threats to democracy

October 23, 2019

On October 14, the Belo Horizonte City Council approved, in the first round, the Draft Bill PL n° 274/2017, known as “Escola sem Partido” (“School without Partisanship”, freely translated). With 25 votes in favor and 8 against, the vote was concluded after fourteen sessions under discussion, with protests involving supporters and critics of the project in the chamber and in the galleries.

Protesters in Belo Horizonte’s City Council during the vote (Câmara Municipal de Belo Horizonte/ CC 2.0 BY-NC 2.0)

In order to come into force, the text still needs to go through thematic committees to evaluate amendments and through the second round of voting, as well as the Mayor’s sanction. Even still, the passage of such a law for the first time in a state capital in Brazil has reopened the debates about freedom of teaching and learning, ideology, and religion.


 But what does the PL nº 274/17 propose? How does it fit into the context of the “School without Partisanship” movement? What are the meanings and possible impacts of this project on education and democracy?

Draft Bill nº 274/2017 and the “School without Partisanship” movement

The text of the PL nº 274/17 regulates the exercise of teaching activity, creating a list of duties for teachers. Among them, the following stand out:

Another point that calls attention in the text is the prohibition imposed for the public power to intervene in students’ sexual orientation and the development of their personalities “in harmony with their respective biological identity of sex, with prohibition of gender ideology.”

In its justificationm, the PL claims to be notorious that teachers have been trying to persuade students to adopt standards of judgment and sexual moral conduct. Therefore, the law would serve to prevent the practice of such political and ideological indoctrination in disagreement with the beliefs of parents.

Finally, it justifies that this supposed conduct of the teachers contrasts with the fundamental rights and freedoms consolidated in the constitution, such as freedom of conscience, belief and political freedom of the student. It is worth noting the weighting of values: “there is no freedom of expression in the strict exercise of teaching activity, under penalty of nullifying the freedom of belief and conscience of students”.

Thus, it makes considerations about bullying and instrumentalization of the public power to justify the need to prohibit ideological indoctrination and abuse of the right to teach.

The School without Partisanship Movement exists since 2004, but it got national relevance in 2015 when proposals inspired by the movement began to be debated in city councils, legislative assemblies and the National Congress. The movement seeks to approve laws that combat “abuse of the right to teach” by setting up posters in classrooms and teachers’ rooms with the “teacher’s duties”.

Unconstituttionalities and illegalities in the “School without Partisanship” project

Like every law, PL 274/17 passed, before the final vote, through the committees of Belo Horizonte’s City Council. The Committee on Legislation and Justice issued a favorable opinion for its constitutionality and legality, while the Commission on Human Rights and Consumer Protection and the Committee of Education, Science, Technology, Culture, Sport, Leisure and Tourism manifested for the rejection of the bill.

With regard to the legal issues of PL 274/17, there are two main arguments made in the opinions. The first, of a formal nature, discusses the competence of the municipalities to deal with issues related to education guidelines. Another argument, of a material nature, refers to the possibility of the project in face of the protection of academic freedom.

In the formal aspect, the conflict refers to the invasion of the Union’s legislative competence to dispose of general education norms, according to the 1988 Constitution. This is because, according to arts. 22, XXIV, it is private competence of the Union to legislate on guidelines and bases of national education. Also, the art. 24, IX, establishes that it is the Union’s responsibility to issue general norms and the States and the Federal District to legislate more specifically in the fields of education, culture, teaching and sport.

Thus, in matters of education, it would be up to the Municipalities to legislate only on a regulatory basis in order to cover peculiarities of local interest, which is not the case with PL 247/2017. Instead, the bill very much resembles the model law that is suggested by the School without Partisanship movement and that has already been presented in other City Councils and Legislative Assemblies of the country.

Because of one of these laws, approved by the Legislative Assembly of Alagoas, the ADI (Direct Action of Unconstitutionality) n° 5537 was filed. On the occasion, Min. Luís Roberto Barroso granted an injunction to suspend Law 7.800/2016, justifying that it would be up to the Union alone to provide for the purposes and foundations of education and that “the freedom to teach and the pluralism of ideas constitute guidelines for the organization of education imposed by the Constitution itself.”

This refers to the material problem of PL 274/17, which concerns the violation of the freedom of chair. The 1988 Constitution establishes in its art. 206, II, that education has as one of its principles the “freedom to learn, teach, research and disseminate thought, art and knowledge”. As Daniel Capecchi Nunes clarifies, “it is therefore a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, which can only be limited when in conflict with another fundamental right.”

The argument of thoes in favor fo the PL and the opinion issued by the Legislative and Justice Commission affirm that the School without Partisanship initiative aims at the “political and ideological decontamination and de-monopolization of schools; respect for the intellectual and moral integrity of students and respect for the right of parents to provide their children with moral education in accordance with their own convictions. ” Thus, they argue that the freedom to learn and teach should be limited in favor of the freedom of families to educate their children morally, imposing on teachers supposed political, ideological and religious neutrality.

It turns out that this neutrality is objectively unreachable. Thus, as will be seen in more detail in the next topic, its imposition on teachers’ performance has as a major consequence the restriction of the possibilities of sharing different worldviews.

Neutrality, education and democracy

A central point for the School without Partisanship movement is the neutrality of education. According to its supporters, this would be a way to counter the alleged partisan rigging of educational institutions, which aimed to impose a certain ideology on students. Behind the seemingly reasonable discourse, however, is a process of oppression of differences and intolerance of pluralism of ideas.

Everyone involved in the teaching and learning process, as well as every human being, are inserted in social and cultural contexts that govern their ways of acting and interacting in society. Consequently, it is not possible for neutrality to be imposed as a criterion for teachers to act because it ultimately results in the annulment of experiences that define students and teachers as subjects.

As well stated in the opinion of the Belo Horizonte City Council’s Commission on Human Rights and Consumer Protection: “The demand for political and ideological neutrality also implies the non-tolerance of different worldviews and political perspectives in class”.

Min. Barroso also defended this position in the aforementioned ADI judgment. He clarified that the law under discussion conflicted with the constitutional principle of pluralism of pedagogical ideas and conceptions, because it created new guidelines for classroom teachers’ action based on supposed neutrality.

Therefore, this kind of proposition brings up questions about threats to democracy that have already been dealt with in other Democratizing posts. In the text “Censorship: the intersection between authoritarianism and the universe of homosexualities”, it was stressed that pluralism is a structuring principle of the legal order and imposes on the State the obligation not to discriminate and act so that opinions and ways of life can coexist. in harmony.

The attempt to erase differences refers to authoritarian practices that seek the uniqueness of life forms. By building a dynamic of us versus them, authoritarianism seeks government intrusion into private life as a way of reinforcing its own notions of morals and politics, excluding other ways of life.

Moreover, the advancement of the School without Partisanship refers to the anti-intellectualist policies that were approached on in the text “Dismantling of education: the anti-intellectualist policy under the Bolsonaro government“. The promotion of attacks on educational systems aims to undermine its credibility and devalue critical and independent education to ward off any challenge that threatens the implementation of authoritarian agendas.

By Ana Carolina Rezende Oliveira [1], Jéssica Silveira [2]

You can read more about the topic here:

[1] Doutoranda em Direito pelo Programa de Pós-Graduação em Direito da UFMG. Pesquisadora do Centro de Estudos sobre Justiça de Transição da UFMG (CJT/UFMG). Coordenadora do Núcleo de Memória, Verdade, Combate e prevenção à tortura da SEDESE-MG.

[2] Graduanda em Direito pela UFMG. Pesquisadora bolsista de iniciação científica FAPEMIG do Centro de Estudos sobre Justiça de Transição (CJT/UFMG).