After cautiously reopening schools earlier this month, the Education Ministry now faces a new challenge to ensure their smooth operation as the number of sit-ins across the country is growing, with pupils protesting the government’s response to the pandemic among other things, amid suspicions by authorities that many of the protests are politically motivated.
Some 200 schools are currently under occupation and, although the number is a small fraction of the 14,000 schools across the country, the government is worried that the trend could pick up.
The grievances being aired by the pupils range from concerns about overcrowding in classrooms or objections to the requirement for the mandatory use of face masks in schools to objections to the government’s plans to purchase French-made fighter jets or calls for more teachers.
Commenting on the matter, Education Minister Niki Kerameus said that sit-ins “aren’t the answer.” “Every position and opinion has the right to be aired, but dialogue happens with schools open. It’s inconceivable to suspend the educational process. No one can prevent anyone else from access to an education,” she said.
Meanwhile education authorities have played down criticism over schools that have been closed due to coronavirus outbreaks, noting that there are currently 110 schools that have closed or partially closed for this reason, around half of those that are under occupation. “Contact tracing suggests that the reopening of schools has not had a real impact on the spread of the virus,” a ministry source said.
Most of the 200 sit-ins are in Thessaloniki, on Crete, in western Attica and in Achaia, with the ministry believing that the majority have been organized by rival political parties. The government has decided to wait until next week before proceeding with any action against the sit-ins. Meanwhile local regional authorities have been instructed to do what they can to convince parents and pupils to stop the occupations.
As is usually the case with school sit-ins, the majority involve a minority of pupils, which has fueled several counterprotests by parents whose children are not involved in the occupations.
Meanwhile, Education Ministry sources claim that in many cases, pupils’ demands have been satisfied. For instance, 32,000 additional auxiliary teachers were hired for the new academic year.