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Greek Education Ministry Says School Occupations Winding Down

ATHENS – Students across Greece who had occupied hundreds of schools in protest over crowded classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues are said to be giving up the fight slowly.

The Education Ministry claimed that the number of schools where students are staging sit-ins is declining but didn't give any figures after it was reported in the media earlier that as many as 770 had been taken over.

Many pupils aren't relenting, planning to march outside the ministry on Oct. 9 after they hard marched through the Greek capital earlier, demanding a range of reforms and that the government not buy French made fighter jets to deal with threats from Turkey.

The union of secondary school teachers has been holding work stoppages to protest the ministry’s decision to have teachers offer distance learning to pupils whose schools are occupied, said Kathimerini in a report.

At the start of October, after days of occupations continued and spread, the new Democracy government said students taking part in the sit-ins would 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, with no intervention from authorities.

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.

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 also 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.”

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