National and Local Police prevented the group accessing the town hall. / E. CABEZAS

More than 200 parents of school closed due to cracks protest against relocation of pupils

Some thirty National and Local Police officers prevented the group entering the Vélez-Málaga town hall where a council meeting was in progress

Eugenio Cabezas
EUGENIO CABEZAS

The parents of the more than 550 pupils of the José Luis Villar Palasí primary school in Vélez-Málaga, known as ‘Zona Norte’, gathered outside the town hall on Monday 14 November in protest against last week’s decision by the Junta de Andalucía to close the school, after a series of cracks that have been present in the buildings for almost four decades had worsened.

More than 200 people gathered to demand "a solution" to the decision to relocate the children to three other schools in the town, arguing that it would disrupt family and work routines. They also demanded a solution to the building. “The facilities are not suitable, like the gymnasium and classrooms that have been disused for many years," complained Macarena Alvis, mother of year three pupil.

The parents tried to gain access to the town hall's main meeting room, where a council meeting was in progress, but were prevented from doing so by around thirty local and national police officers. The two opposition groups, the Partido Popular (PP) and Andalucía por Sí, asked the mayor, the socialist Antonio Moreno Ferrer, to invite a representation of the parents to the meeting. But he and his team refused to allow them in.

Responsibilities

In a subsequent statement, Vélez-Málaga town hall announced that they would try to meet with the school’s management team today, Tuesday 15 November, "to continue to support the school and collaborate with the Junta to find a solution to the situation". They have insisted that the decision to close the school "has been taken by the Junta" and that competences in educational matters are "exclusively" those of the regional administration.

"The town hall is only responsible for the basic maintenance of the schools, such as cleaning, minor repairs, electricity, plumbing, gardening, painting, etc. although on occasions, the operational services team and Emvipsa [the local cleaning company] are obliged to carry out repairs that correspond to the Junta in order to provide a rapid response in the absence of a response from the Junta even though they are not a municipal competence," argued the town hall team.

Referring to Monday’s protests, the town hall said that it is “against and strongly rejects any kind of violent behaviour and protests outside the law, as this is never the way to deal with such important issues, but should be done through legal and official channels and before the responsible authority that can provide answers, which is the Junta".

The president of the parent-teacher association (Ampa Zona Norte), Juan Antonio Fernández, disassociated himself from the protests, although he understands "the parents’ concern and rejection". Fernández went on to say that after meeting with the Junta de Andalucía’s education department, they have agreed to allow teaching to continue in one of the buildings, which had repair work done to it 10 years ago.

It has ten classrooms and accommodates third and fourth year primary school pupils. However, he pointed out that it has not yet been decided which groups would remain in these facilities and which would be relocated to other centres.

Emergency plan

The school has 24 occupied classrooms, six for Infants, 17 for Primary and one for pupils with special educational needs. The parents' representative also pointed out that the Junta has committed itself to include the repair works of the buildings with cracks in an emergency plan for 2023.

"The technical reports have yet to be drawn up, we still don't know how much the work will cost or how long it will take," Fernández said. He added that it has not yet been decided whether the transfer of pupils will take place from Thursday, as announced last week.

"If so, we want the transport service, the dining room and the morning classes to be able to start now, and not have to wait until December," he said. This Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday classes at Zona Norte have been suspended following a decision taken by the teaching staff and the management team, although parents who have no alternative, can bring their children to the centre.

"It has all been very hasty, parents found out about the closure decision in the media last Wednesday [9 November] and there are technicians who are also parents and who do not see the need to vacate the entire school immediately," he added.