Parents padlocked the gates of 20 schools in Costa Rica on Thursday to protest sex education classes for teens that some believe promote homosexuality, the Ministerio de Educación Pública (MEP)- the Education Ministry – said.
The actions — on the first day of the new school year — were initially reported in a few areas in the northern Costa Rican but spread to other areas also in the southern zone and around the Caribbean port city of Limon, the ministry said.
Parents also loudly protested the sex education guide to local media and in social media posts.
The protests were happening against a backdrop of heightened religious and social conservatism in the country energized by presidential elections which have propelled into first place an evangelical preacher, Fabricio Alvarado, the candidate of the National Restoration Party, a right-wing Christian party, and who opposes gay marriage.
He emerged as the frontrunner after the first round of elections in February 4 elections. On April 1 he faces a runoff against the ruling party, the Partido Accion Cuidadana (PAC) candidate, Carlos Alvarado, who is no relation.
A video circulating online featured an unidentified man explaining his opposition to the sex education program at the Puerto Escondido school in Pital, in the northern district of San Carlos, where he said his child was enrolled.
“We are not going to allow this sexual guide to be implanted in our children,” he said. “We are putting on chains and padlocks to say no to this program.”
Some parents interviewed by La Nacion said they believed the sex-education guide promotes homosexuality, something the government denied.
Education Minister Sonia Marta Mora asked parents who had doubts about the program to contact the schools to get information about its content.
The program has been in place since 2012 for students in their penultimate year of high school, usually aged around 16.
Last year Mora sent a memorandum to high schools telling them sex education was not compulsory, and that parents could exempt their children from the class.
“It’s very serious that they are claiming that the program promotes homosexuality. It is unacceptable that such false information is circulating,” Mora said.
Her predecessor, Leonardo Garnier, also criticized the bigotry that he said has surrounded the sex education initiative.
“We have now entered a new phase of intolerance. Now schools are being closed to oppose education about sex and intimacy. This is an attack on the right of all to education,” he wrote on his social media accounts.
In all, closed on Thursday was the Escuela Daytonia in Limon; five in Pérez Zeledón: Escuela El Porvenir, República de México, Escuela Pejibaye, Escuela Uvita and Peñas Blancas; and in 14 San Carlos: Escuela San Gerardo, Escuela Garabito, Escuela Puerto Escondido, Escuela Cerro Cortés, Escuela Santa Fe, Escuela La Lucha, Escuela San Francisco, Escuela Viento Fresco, Escuela Mario Salazar, Escuela Vuelta de Kooper, Escuela de San José, Escuela El Futuro, Escuela Aguas Zarcas, Escuela Monte Cristo.
The public school year in Costa Rica runs from February to December. Some private schools, however, follow the United States and Canada school year.