Education Minister Costas Kadis on Thursday intervened to stop 10 former dropouts from sharing Evriviadio high school in Larnaca with other students, after parents protested citing concerns over the wellbeing of their children.
The fracas began on the first day back at school with parents protesting and students failing to attend classes over their refusal to share the premises with the small group of students.
The issue stemmed from a ministry decision to use Evriviadio from October for a programme that caters to pupils from 14 – 17 who are former dropouts returning to education for a few days a week and following separate curriculum in a bid to receive a high school leaving certificate.
Education ministry inspector for technical education Andreas Eleftheriou said reports that 15 of these students are political asylum seekers are wrong.
“They are 10 students and all are Greek Cypriot. This is not an issue of racism,” he told the Cyprus Mail.
The secretary of Evriviadio’s parent association Hionati Georgalli welcomed the move by Kadis, saying this was what they had wanted.
She had earlier told the Cyprus Mail the parents were worried that the infrastructure of the school could not accommodate any more students, and that they had serious concerns about the students in the programme.
“These students are aged between 14 – 17. This is lyceum age, why are they going to be placed with high school students that around 12? We are against this,” Georgalli said.
She added that the school had already been involved in another ministry programme for immigrant students for the past three years. Although they had concerns at first “the students have learned to co-exist.”
Asked if perhaps the students would learn to adapt to the new programme as they did with immigrant students, Georgalli said this was different.
“These students are ones that in the past were expelled, or may have been truanting. They’re not scared of teachers, they’re different.”
Parents did not want to stigmatise this group of students, she added nor were they against their attempts to get a school leaving certificate.
“We just think that the education ministry gets a lot of money for this programme and they took a rushed decision.
“In Limassol, they rented out a separate building for these students. In Larnaca why should they be housed at the Evriviadio?”
Head of secondary education Kyprianos Louis told the Cyprus Mail that the students will continue to follow their education at a government building until a new location is found for them.
They had picked Evriviadio as EU rules specify the students must be housed in a public school, Louis said.
Asked what kind of precedent this might set for any other school they try to attend, he said that any government building would be sufficient. In this case, the labour ministry needed the building and so steps would be taken to find new premises for them which would be autonomous.
According to Louis, the parents were also concerned over the future of the school, as 50 per cent of the student body is comprised of foreign nationals.
Although they get on very well he said, the introduction of the new group of students would further complicate things.
The ministry had assessed criteria such as school premises and the student body but had got a much clearer picture after speaking to the parents, Louis added.
Evriviadio was chosen because of its premises and classrooms, among other things, however inspection at the scene today made the ministry re-evaluate the decision, he said.
Asked if there had not been any checks beforehand, he said “we had a 90 per cent picture. After today it became 100 per cent clear.”
Had Kadis not intervened, the students, as per the programme, would have followed a separate education programme, had different teachers and not attended the same classes as the remaining students. They would also have had psychological support on hand.
Louis said that if the ministry had said they would build a wall and put the handful of students on one side and the rest on the other without any mixing on the grounds, the parents would have probably accepted.
The bumpy beginning to the school year clashed with a positive well-wishing statement by Kadis earlier in the day, advising students “to begin the school year with joy and positivity.”
He said the ministry was implementing a series of reforms to “nurture values and morals” as well as improve academic results of students.
“The success of our efforts largely depends on close cooperation between all of us – the education ministry, teachers, parents, guardians, students, and all bodies that work within and around schools.”
He expressed confidence that teachers would fulfil their responsibilities and be a source of inspiration to students nurturing “democracy, peace, solidarity, respect to human rights and love for the environment.”
“A good year to you all,” he said.