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São Paulo, Brazil: Students and teachers in São Paulo are protesting conservative Governor Alckmin’s attempts to “reorganize” the educational system in São Paulo. The proposed “reorganization” will close almost 100 schools, most of them in poor neighborhoods of the city. The proposals were made without any consultation of students or teachers, so students have taken matters into their own hands and occupied schools in São Paulo and surrounding areas. As of Tuesday, December 1, 200 schools are now occupied by students in São Paulo. The school occupations began November 9 and have been spreading steadily ever since.
Young activists lock themselves inside resisting the police / Photo: Laura Viana.
The government proposal announced in September by the State’s Educational Administration will affect 311,000 students and their families; and 74,000 teachers in 1,464 schools. According to São Paulo State Secretary of Education Herman Voorwald, the proposal is intended to reduce the complexity of school administration by separating schools into three levels: “Ensino Fundamental I” (ages 6 to 10), “Ensino Fundamental II” (ages 11 to 14) and “Ensino Medio” (ages 15 to 17).
Students and teachers fear the school closures will lead to classroom overcrowding, teacher firings reductions in salaries, and limiting access to education for lower to middle income students. The occupations of schools are an effort to force a dialogue with the authorities as well as draw attention to existing problems in Brazil’s public school system such as over crowded classrooms, lack of basic items like desks and chairs, shortages of computers and inadequate security.
“The conditions at our schools are precarious enough and with these closures, they will only get more precarious,” 18-year-old Eudes Cassio da Silva Oliveira told Al Jazeera at the Fernao Dias school, the first to be occupied.
The occupiers ages range from ages 13 to 18, and they have been receiving widespread support from both parents and teachers. On November 13, a judge who had previously given a 24 hour notice for the students to leave the occupied schools, went back on his decision by stating that the current occupations are not a matter of invasion of public buildings, but a matter of occupation with a firm political basis. This means that the students are legal occupiers.
Despite the judge’s ruling and widespread public support, students have been attacked and arrested by notoriously heavy-handed police forces. Protests on December 1 were attacked and tear gassed by police. Four students were arrested.
The December 1 peaceful protest on Avenue 9 de Julho in São Paulo was repressed by military police using tear gas and rubber bullets.
Meanwhile students have barricaded themselves inside the occupied schools using chairs and tables and have decorated the outer gates with signs saying “It’s our school,” “We are taking what’s ours by right” and “The students resist.” Their organization is fully autonomous and self-organized.
“I was a student and a teacher in the state-funded system, and I’ve never seen a movement like this,” says history teacher Marco Cabral, “This moment is unique. I’ve never seen a movement on educational themes that didn’t come from teachers and their syndicates. The strikes involving the public system happen every year, without much mobilization of the parents or students. Now with students in the forefront of the movement we see a lot of parental support. I hope this sparks a change in the history of education in São Paulo, but it’s too early to tell.”
Dazed Digital reports these occupations are symptomatic of a much larger educational crisis that is present throughout Brazil’s history – state-funded schools have a tendency to be underfunded and overcrowded, with underpaid teachers. This re-structuring would mean there would be, in some cases, over one hundred students in each classroom.
Earlier in 2015, teachers took part in a three month strike demanding that the government increase spending on education. Teachers then campaigned for decent pay and for an end to the underfunding of education.
A continuously updated list of occupied schools can be found here with links to their individual facebook pages. Hashtags to follow on social media are #OcuparEresistir, #OcupaEscola and #ReorganizaçãoNão.
Author: Erin Gallagher