Fighting for Equity in Education

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Glasgow Save Our Schools Parents Stage Easter Sit-in Protest Over School Closures

Thursday April 9, 2009

Parents at two Glasgow primary schools have staged a sit-in over Easter in protest about the schools being closed. The following report is from The Guardian. Check out the great photo.

In the gym hall of Wyndford primary school in Maryhill, Glasgow, Donna McKenzie is settling in for her fifth day of civic unrest.

The school shut for the Easter holidays last Friday, but McKenzie, 37, didn’t go home with her children, Amy, 11, and Declan, 6. Under cover of a balloon release in the playground to celebrate the start of the holidays, she and more than 20 other parents slipped inside and occupied Wyndford and the adjacent St Gregory’s primary, which have both been earmarked for closure by Glasgow city council.

The protestors have said they will stay as long as necessary, until the council abandons proposals to close the two schools, which sit back to back in a small square dwarfed by tower blocks. Messages of support and offers of help have flooded in since the occupation started from as far afield as Canada and Italy. A mother from Manchester has been in touch, wondering if she can do something similar at her child’s school.

“The day before we did it, I was really, really scared,” says Donna McKenzie, who also attended Wyndford as a child. “We talked about it and we were thinking, do we really want to do this? None of us had ever done anything like this in our lives before. But we thought, we have to do it, so the school closed for Easter at 2.30pm and at 2.35pm we had taken it over.”

The police were called but the parents say the officers left saying it was not a police matter. Now, council officers man the school gates, but the parent protestors are free to come and go, and the council officials’ only stipulation is that any interviews are carried out off school property.

The protestors have a rota system, which allows them time at home with their children. At any given time, there are between six and 12 parents and grandparents in the gym of Wyndford and between 15 and 20 in St Gregory’s.

Donna McKenzie says her children are hugely supportive of what she is doing, even though their Easter holidays have been disrupted.

“When I went out for the day with my kids, they wrote in the sand, ‘I’m so proud of my mum.’ It was amazing because I was feeling really guilty that I wasn’t with them.”

Tracey Wilson, whose daughter, Carla, attends St Gregory’s, said the occupation was the only measure left to parents who have been campaigning against the proposed closures.

“We have lobbied the council. We’ve been at the city chambers and the parliament. We’ve had marches and cavalcades. We’ve had the kids on strike for an hour, although it was during assembly so they didn’t miss their lessons. This was the last straw. We felt as if it was the only thing left to do.”

The proposed closure of Wyndford and St Gregory’s is just part of a broader modernisation and rationalisation plan by Glasgow city council which would see 13 primary schools and 12 nurseries closed or merged, meaning a change of school for some 2,000 children. Wyndford’s pupils would be moved to Parkview primary, and St Gregory’s to St Mary’s primary, both more than a mile away. Falling school rolls and ageing school buildings have been the spur for the proposed changes. The council argues that some of the schools are in too poor a state to continue in use.

A spokesman for Glasgow city council said there had already been an extensive consultation process and council officials had already gone to great lengths to explain why they were putting forward their proposals. No final decisions had yet been made.

“We held a six-week consultation period during which we organised 46 public meetings, including four separate meetings for parents at the schools involved in this protest,” said the spokesman. “We received more than 8,000 formal responses to the consultation. These are currently being collated and councillors will receive a comprehensive report before they make any decisions on these proposals at a meeting of the council on April 23rd.”

Donna McKenzie, however, says the council has not taken into account the fact that the school is more than just an educational establishment to the families who live within its catchment.

“It’s not just a school. We depend on it for after school clubs. We have a lot of single parents who rely on elderly relatives to take their kids to school. And they are brilliant schools. This was the last thing we could do to save our communities and our schools and our choices. They are taking our choices away as well.

“It is really heartfelt what we are doing. We said to the council, if you take these schools out of our community that leaves a big black hole in Maryhill. If you do that you would be as well taking the rest of us and putting us in the hole too.”

Morale among the protestors remains high, says Tracey Wilson. The local hairdresser delivered some pies, a nearby diner has given all protestors discounts on their breakfast, and well-wishers have furnished them with food, two televisions, a microwave and bedding. Banners proclaiming Save Our Schools hang from windows around the neighbourhood. The parents have asked for a meeting with the council leader Steven Purcell but say he has so far refused.

The schools are due to reopen for the summer term on 20 April, and Wilson says the parents will still be there, if nothing has changed.

“They are hoping we will crack but we won’t crack,” says Wilson. “The more determined they are to crack us, the more determined we are to stay.”

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