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Greek Students Occupying Schools Face Consequences, Online Classes

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(Photo by Eurokinissi. Yiannis Panagopoulos)

ATHENS – Weary of a minority of students taking over hundreds of schools in protest against COVID-19 health measures and political complaints, Greece's New Democracy said they will be required to take classes online, marked absent if they don't.

The edict came from Education Minister Niki Kerameus as the government slowly moved away from hopes the sit-ins would end on their own but have shown signs of growing, with no intervention from authorities.

There were 770 occupations, said Kathimerini, the tactic common for students who cite a range of grievances so they don't have to take classes and almost always get away with it, planning to take to the streets in demonstrations.

The government is said to believe the takeovers are being orchestrated by rival parties, with the KKE Communists and major opposition and former ruling SYRIZA Progressive Alliance openly throwing their weight behind students.

Besides daily online classes that began Oct. 1, pupils at occupied schools will have to take makeup classes for the studies they missed, including on holidays and weekends, Kerameus said.

“Every position has the right to be aired, but dialogue happens with schools open,” she said, with no immediate backlash after her declaration.

Some students don't want to wear masks to protect them from the Coronavirus while others are upset the government plans to buy French-made Rafale fighter jets as a defense against growing Turkish provocations.

A key demand is for class numbers to be reduced from 25 to 15 during the pandemic that has seen cases rise because of some people ignoring requirements to wear masks and not staying a safe social distance of at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart.

The ministry rejected criticism that opening schools had contributed to the rise in cases even though it's difficult to keep students apart and with scenes of elementary students playing together at recess time.

“After 15 days of schools operating, the cases recorded… come to 0.01 percent of pupils and 0.02 percent of teachers,” a ministry official said, adding that only 3 percent of public schools have more than 26 students in classes.

SYRIZA’s education department accused the government of “serious shortfalls and mistakes” in its response to the pandemic and defended the sit-in movement for “striving for open and safe schools.”

Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis said SYRIZA, riddled with members who had occupied schools when students, of being obsessed with the tactic as he said schools in Switzerland, which has a higher rate of infections, routinely have more than 25 students.