The activists – aged between 13 and 18 – have barricaded themselves inside over 50 state schools across São Paulo in huge protests against planned closures
At the time of writing, students aged between 13 and 18 have autonomously occupied over 50 state schools in São Paulo, Brazil, with the number rising by the hour. The occupations started on November 9, following the announcement of a re-structuring of the state school system, which would involve the closure of 98 schools. The “E day” of the announcement, as it’s being called by Brazilian media, left 311,000 students and their parents without much knowledge of where their sons and daughters would be transferred to, and 74,000 teachers with uncertain destinies.
One of the first schools to be occupied was Fernão Dias, situated in a busy, middle class neighborhood of São Paulo. Students occupied it overnight, and remain locked inside despite police pressure, barracading themselves in with chairs and tables and decorating the gates with signs stating “It’s our school”, “We are taking what’s ours by right” and “The students resist”. The schools that followed were situated all around the city, including the poorer, peripheral neighborhoods, where police pressure has been even larger and more violent, since the fear of reprehension and accountability is lower.
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.
“During the dictatorship in the 70s there was a significant increase in the amount of state-funded schools and the access to state-funded education in Brazil," explains Brazilian history teacher Eliane Yambanis. “I lived through that during my school years. However, this meant the focus was on the number of chairs sat on rather than the quality of teaching or the overall school quality. It also took the autonomy of both teachers and students.” The city of São Paulo alone has 5,300 schools, with 230,000 teachers and over 4 million students. No school is an empty school.
This re-structuring, installed by highly conservative governor Geraldo Alckmin, was made without any consultation of students or teachers, under the guise of creating a better situation for learning, based around a study correlating grade averages with classroom sizes. This study has now been publicly disproved as irregular and inappropriate as it failed to consider any other aspects of the schools – for example size, student numbers, the social and economical situation of the students.
There is a strong case to affirm that the decision was made solely to save money and let teachers go. “Brazil is going through a complicated moment with the economic crisis, and the amount of money saved is estimated to be around the 2 billion mark (Real)," explains history teacher Marco Cabral, who fully supports the movement. “The weight of this ‘money saved’ falls on the back of the working families. The problem is that we have a government spending far more money on publicity than it spends on education and safety.”
The occupiers ages range from ages 13 to 18, and they have been receiving widespread support from both parents and teachers, although the resistance has been strong particularly in more isolated, peripheral neighbourhoods. In a recent video taken at Raul Fonseca school (shown at the bottom of the article), policemen have illegally taken the locks from the school gates, keeping the gates open, with students accusing them of foul play. “You are invading our space”, says one of the students around the 1:45 mark. “Then someone comes in, breaks everything and you’re going to put the blame on us. You are wearing uniforms so you think you have the right. This is our space. You don’t have any right to invade our space. On your way.”
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.
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 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 mobilisation 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.”
In a video taken by Brazilian news outlet Carta Capital, student João Vitor explains: “As all the means of dialogue have been exhausted between us and the government, we’re seeking to make a statement through occupation to stop the re-structuring and the closure of the schools.”
The occupation has had to deal with other political agendas trying to co-opt their movement and almost ten days on from the first occupation the pressure from the state gets stronger, as people declare the re-integration of occupied schools “inevitable”. Regardless, the number of schools grows by the hour, as more and more students take power into their own hands and organise themselves to resist. In the same video, student Mariana, from Fernão Dias, says: “This is the moment that they’re most scared. Our organization makes them scared.”
REPRESSAO NA EE RAUL FONSECA!Policia pressiona estudantes para nao fechar os portoes da escola e ROUBA CADEADO dos estudantes!Sem mandado nao entra!NAO A REPRESSAO!Posted by território livre on Tuesday, 17 November 2015