A new Board for Educational Matters will be established in order to safeguard the best interests of children and to ensure that decisions concerning children’s education are taken with those interests at heart.

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo explained in Parliament on Wednesday that children were often left “in limbo” by parents who chose to use their children as pawns against each other, such as in cases of separation.

Decisions which needed to be taken by both parents, such as the relocation of children from one school to another, sometimes could not be taken because of the lack of cooperation of one or both parents.

Following a report by a head of school, the Board for Educational Matters would have the power to take decisions on behalf of children in order to safeguard their best interests.

The Board would be composed of professionals in the field, the minister explained.

He made his remarks during a debate on amendments to the Education Act.

Parliamentary Secretary Clifton Grima later explained that the Board’s chair would be a lawyer suitably qualified to be eligible to be appointed Magistrate and that the remaining Board members would be professionals in related fields.

Opposition MP Edwin Vassallo questioned the true intention behind the Board’s
establishment. Should the intention laid out by the Minister be genuine, he said he would have no issue with expressing his assent. However, he mentioned the possibility of the Board being used to preempt moral decisions taken by parents in protest at the transmission of what they considered inappropriate learning material.

He referred to the controversial publication last summer of a textbook
intended to teach schoolchildren about different sexual orientations, among other topics.

Mr Bartolo, replying, said this was not the intention of the Board.

Heavier penalties

Mr Bartolo also described steps to protect educators which would be taken following the enactment of the Bill as law. Assault or intimidation of educators would be punishable with a fine of between €800 and €5,000, he said.

Furthermore, there would be heavier penalties for those who failed to send their children to school and who did not appear when summoned by the respective tribunal. These parents would be liable to a fine, to imprisonment, or to both.