Reportage. Italians took part in a day of public demonstrations in piazze and online calling for a safe return to proper education in September. ‘Children and young people have been forgotten.’

‘Priority for Schools’ demonstrations fill Italian streets, from north to south

“Educate yourselves, because we will need all our intelligence”—this saying by Antonio Gramsci was a fitting slogan for the 19 cities that took to the streets for the right to education. Despite the many precautions due to the health emergency, the “Priority for Schools” committee managed to mobilize thousands of people all over Italy on Saturday, from Trapani to Vicenza.

“We started out as a group of friends, scattered throughout various cities in Italy, seriously concerned about the silence that reigned over the fate of the schools,” explained Cristina Tagliabue, coordinator of the Roman demonstration. She added: “We are wondering, how is it possible that the ministerial committee of experts to draw up a plan for reopening the schools was established only a few days ago? For such a crucial field as education, it was necessary to get moving much earlier. Children and young people have been forgotten.”

The demonstrations called by the autonomous “Priority for Schools” coordinating organization have been joined by many individuals and many organizations in the world of education, some of whom have been fighting for years for an improvement in working and studying conditions. In Rome, a few steps away from the Ministry of Education, teachers, temporary staff, students, administrative staff and parents’ committees took turns at the microphone.

Also present was the Roman branch of the Non Una Di Meno feminist network, which on Sunday at 5 p.m. organized an online public gathering on the topic “What happened to the schools?” as well as a number of grassroots unions. “The grave action that the institutions are taking is simply not doing anything,” says Mario Sanguinetti from COBAS, setting out a list of priorities: “A decrease in students per class, an increase in staff, stability for the precarious workers.”

Early in the afternoon, Undersecretary of Education Peppe De Cristofaro (LeU) also expressed his support for the mobilization: “Simply returning to normal was not enough even before the health emergency. We need a large public investment to reverse the trend of the cuts of the last 30 years,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

The issue of resources needed for investments in public schools has been the main focus of the protest, together with the affirmation of an inescapable principle: distance learning is merely an emergency tool that cannot find a permanent role in the months to come. “They can find the money for so many issues, now they have to find it for the schools, it’s a matter of choices. Two things must be put first: health and the importance that we give to the education of our students as a community,” said Francesco Cori from Lavoratori Autoconvocati della Scuola at the Rome protest.

The inseparable nature of the right to education and the right to health has shaped the contents and form of this initiative, which developed on the uncertain terrain of what public protests should be like at the time of the pandemic. There were continued calls from the megaphone to maintain distance, a widespread use of masks for both adults and children and a great deal of mutual attention despite the excitement and heat of the spring afternoon. In Milan, a city particularly affected by the contagion, the organizers decided to speak out in a more cautious manner: small localized protests with the placing of banners in front of 200 schools.

In Florence, at one of the most attended protests, there was a choir of parents, teachers and students, all thinking about the fateful September reopening that still appears to be plagued with too many uncertainties. Costanza Margiotta, one of the first promoters of the “Priority for the Schools” committee, said: “We have asked for the reopening to take place in safety, with attendance and continuity, and an elimination of precariousness from the school institution as a whole.”

In addition to the valuable synergy between school staff and families, the voice of children and young people could be heard in all the protests. “Many of my classmates don’t have a perfect Internet connection, and it has been difficult to keep in touch with them during these months,” says Penelope, 10 and a half years old, from the Prince Amedeo school in Garbatella. “So many things have been lost in these months: the crushes, the talks, the school trips. We were trying to keep them away from their screens, and now they are expected to do five hours of online lessons a day,” says Emanuela Gregori from the Fratelli Banidera Parents’ Committee.

“They’ve been pretending they can’t see that the more frail kids have been left behind. I’m a support teacher, and I didn’t know what to say to the families. I asked that they should put pressure on the children to follow the lessons, knowing in my heart that some were unable to do so,” Francesco Cori adds. The high school students from Rome and its surroundings have already announced a day of protest in front of the Ministry of Education on May 28.

In the evening came a tweet from Minister Azzolina, who reiterated the government’s commitment to resuming classes in September.

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