A federal judge on Tuesday evening reignited the education row between the Buenos Aires City and National governments, annulling a previous court order authorising in-person classes in the capital’s schools and casting doubt over their continuation.
Federal Judge Esteban Furnari sent the case to the Supreme Court, which has already declared itself “competent” to rule on the issue following a previous appeal from City Hall. The justices have given both administrations five days to prepare their case.
The ruling throws school attendance into doubt and raises the possibility that children in Buenos Aires could be forced to learn at home remotely until the end of April or until the Supreme Court justices deliver a verdict.
However, the Times can report that classes will go ahead on Wednesday in the City, regardless of this latest ruling. In a communiqué sent late Tuesday, the General Directorate of Private Management Education – a unit within the Education Ministry of Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s administration – informed institutions to open as normal in the morning.
Last Wednesday, President Alberto Fernández announced a tightening of coronavirus restrictions to stem a surge in Covid-19 cases, especially in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA), extending a nighttime curfew and shuttering schools in the region for 15 days until the end of April.
Rodríguez Larreta, however, vowed to fight the decision and challenged it in the court. On Sunday, a City appeals court ruled that that City Hall had autonomy to decide if schools should remain open.
In his ruling, Furnari decried "the institutional gravity and legal scandal" of that decision. The judge asked City Hall to “refrain from applying or executing the measure ordered last weekend" – a reference to last Sunday’s decision by the Chamber of Appeals in Administrative, Tax and Consumer Relations in Buenos Aires.
With the Supreme Court due to step in at some point soon, what has emerged now is a conflict over whether a federal judge can annul the ruling of the local appeals court, or if only the justices can do that. According to Perfil, lawyers working for City Hall are convinced that classes can continue until the conflict is resolved.
The court battle comes with Argentina experiencing a second wave of Covid-19 infections, with the country's health system coming under increasing strain. On Tuesday officials reported 29,145 cases over the last 24 hours. More than 2.7 million people have now been infected with coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. The death toll now stands at close to 60,000, with 316 fatalities yesterday.
Rodríguez Larreta has pushed hard to keep schools open and says in-person classes are not sources of contagion. He argues that the federal capital has “the autonomy” to decide if schools should remain open.
The national government, however, is refusing to back down. Officials have described the ruling as “political” and a “legal aberration” and believe the City appeals court has no jurisdiction over the matter.