ATHENS – The school year began Sept. 12, but continued sit-ins and occupations by students protesting the failure of the government to provide textbooks and a host of other grievances have shuttered some 580 high schools, idling teachers and leading the state’s Supreme Court to order an investigation, while school officials have been reluctant to oust the students or call the police to intervene.
A bureaucratic snafu has prevented textbooks from being delivered and initially led school authorities to tell teachers to use photocopies or ask students from previous years to donate their books, but that scheme quickly fell apart when students began locking out teachers and administrators, occupying school offices, classrooms and grounds, leaving teachers to stare in from the outside the gates and go home. Some teachers have worked only five days of classes since the school year began.
The government has vowed to extend the school year to make up for lost time but rarely does as occupations have become almost a tradition for students who are allowed to stay in the schools as long as they want and do not face consequences. Officials have promised the books would be delivered by the end of the month but teacher union officials said they doubt the books would arrive before Christmas. This year’s occupations have gone on longer and included more schools than usual, and comes as university students are also striking in protest against reforms that would require them to attend classes and eventually graduate.
Prosecutor Yiannis Tentes instructed judicial authorities to investigate whether the pupils conducting the sit-in protests were committing any crimes, such as destruction of property or theft, or whether their parents were guilty of any offenses, such as neglecting a minor, the newspaper Kathimerini reported. There have also been reports of adults occupying some schools. One school reportedly suffered 100,000 euros’ worth of damage. Chief Athens prosecutor Eleni Raikou also asked police to check if any crimes that justified the immediate arrest of perpetrators were being carried out at the schools which are under occupation.
The Education Ministry said that some 580 junior and senior high schools have been shut due to protests against the lack of textbooks and the general lack of investment in secondary education, which is facing further cutbacks due to the economic crisis. Many schools have already merged, nearly doubling class sizes for some teachers. Government officials said they believe the sit-ins are bring orchestrated by Leftist political parties. Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou, who has been helpless to stop the movement, criticized Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras for not speaking out against the sit-ins after he met with representatives of the Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OLME.)
Tsipras denounced the government’s education policy and called for Diamantopoulou to resign. But she said: “The problems in education will not be solved through closed schools or occupied schools that have been vandalized but we did not hear anything about that from SYRIZA.” Political parties try to create alliances with students and Communist and Leftist parties actively recruit them. Diamantopoulou said that the teaching hours being lost due to the sit-ins would be recovered by canceling school excursions and bringing pupils in for lessons on Saturdays. “The school term will also be lengthened if necessary,” she said.
Deputy Education Minister Efi Christofilopoulou told Skai television that only about 10-15 students at each high school are locking out everyone else, but no one has made a move to stop them and the occupations show no sign of abating. She said the schools have the right to ask for police help but have never done so. “Universities and schools are public spaces, and police can intervene on its own initiative,” the Deputy Minister explained. She suggested that the time lost due to sit-ins will be covered through classes on weekends and holidays, and even if that is not sufficient, then the school year could be extended.
(Sources: Kathimerini, SKAI TV)