The Ministry of Public Education (SEP) announced Monday that it would challenge a court ruling ordering it to restore a program that extended school hours for students at more than 25,000 schools and thus gave their parents – especially mothers – more time to work to support their families.
The federal government abolished the Full-Time Schools Program (PETC) – which also provided meals to students – earlier this year. Delfina Gómez, who was education minister until the end of last month, said in March that the government wanted to prioritize education sector resources the the improvement of basic school infrastructure such as classrooms and washrooms.
Mexicanos Primero, an education-focused nongovernmental organization, filed a legal challenge against the elimination of the PETC, and a Mexico City administrative court judge ruled last Wednesday that the government must restore it.
However, Judge Yadira Medina Alcántara added a qualification to her ruling, saying that if the PETC can’t be restored, SEP must modify the La Escuela es Nuestra (The School is Ours) program so that if offers the same benefits. In abolishing the PETC, she said, the government ignored the situations of working mothers, who were previously able to leave their kids at school for longer, giving them more time to work.
Former president Felipe Calderón, whose government created the PETC, said on Twitter after SEP announced the program’s termination in March that “when creating #FullTimeSchools we sought to improve the education of children, provide comprehensive nutrition to them and allow the incorporation of more women into the labor market.”
“Mom could work full time while her child learned, ate better and was safe,” he added in a post that included a tweet from a person who asserted that President López Obrador decided to do away with the PETC partially because it was created during the government led by Calderón, an arch adversary of the president.
Testing showed that students benefited academically from spending more time at school, and the national social development agency Coneval concluded in 2018 that the PETC was one of the country’s most important education programs.
In a statement, SEP asserted that the La Escuela es Nuestra (LEEN) program is similar to the PETC, given that it also allows students to stay at school outside regular hours and provides meals to them.
As La Escuela es Nuestra already provides those “services,” SEP will appeal the judge’s ruling with a view to it being revoked, the statement said.
The Ministry of Public Education also said that it announced in April that the extended school hours and meals offered by the PETC would be incorporated into La Escuela es Nuestra. In addition, it said that a study it conducted found that “almost 20,000 schools, … 73% of those attended to [by the PETC] in the 2021–21 school year, are not located in places with high levels of marginalization.”
SEP stressed that children and adolescents who benefited from the PETC have not been left without financial support, noting that they receive educational scholarships worth 840 pesos (US $42) per month, whereas they previously got just 300 pesos. It also said it intends to offer LEN in 113,000 schools next year, which it said would benefit almost 9 million students.
The LEEN program currently benefits 3.6 million students in 27,000 schools.