Classrooms turned into pandemic battleground

6 mins read

Before the Pope could arrive to bless us with his message of fraternity and reconciliation, a much louder response to intolerance was detonated.

While officialdom was basking in the glow of Pope Francis taking his Apostolic Journey in the cultural richness of Cyprus, some whackos were blowing up schools.

Put COVID, political division, social injustice to one side; there is something seriously wrong if primary schools are blown to bits and torched.

There was the expected condemnation from the government, politicians and the general public.

Schools usually get vandalised, and nobody does anything about it but placing two cylinder bombs that can cause real damage is rare.

Thursday’s bomb blast at a Limassol primary school was also followed by an arson attack at a Nicosia school.

The assailants left graffiti declaring “hands off our children” at the entrance.

Although there was disbelief, grabbing the thorny subject of it being the work of the ant-COVID brigade was harder.

Some parents demonstrated against the government decree for mandatory mask-wearing in schools and COVID testing.

Some even displayed banners with Nazi swastikas to demonstrate the government’s COVID-19 restrictions were akin to the brutality of Fascism.

I suggest that such symbolism is completely inappropriate, culturally sensitive and shows a complete lack of historical context.

You cannot compare children told to wear masks in school for public health reasons and those who suffered atrocities under the Nazis.

This is probably lost in a society where the education system teaches them no sense of history but a backstory of victimisation.

It could also be argued that as a society, we have failed to educate if schools are the target of people’s anger and frustration.

Everyone has a right to protest and oppose government policy but not threaten teachers when a child is denied entry into class because parents believe they shouldn’t wear a face covering.

Despite reservations, the majority have accepted the rules.

Most kids would wear a mask without hesitation if the reason were explained properly.

When it comes to government-enforced COVID measures, parents seem to have a more proactive feel to take action.

There is a contrast in attitude to voicing disapproval against coronavirus rules and say bullying in school, child abuse or falling education standards.

It’s worrying that there is a sinister undercurrent that could surface at any time to do harm.

For now, COVID is maybe the vehicle to harness that discontent by a section of society that feels marginalised or disenfranchised from a system that lacks justice, opportunity and fairness.

The attacks on the schools were a warning sign that Cypriot society is fraying at the edges, polarised, splintered and indifferent to the common good.

Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou says he couldn’t fathom that people destroy schools because they think they are right.

If you tolerate random vandalism or petty misdemeanours without resolving to address and figure out the root cause, the problem will manifest in more serious crimes.

Prodromou wants to protect teachers and schools from bullying and intimidation.

A small but vocal group of parents have reacted angrily to a Health Ministry order enacted this week that mandates mask-wearing for all schoolchildren aged six and above and weekly coronavirus testing.

Stoking tensions

Objecting parents say the decree infringes on their kids’ freedoms, stoking tensions.

The Education Ministry urged the public to keep violence out of schools, but the battle lines have been drawn.

Teachers have also received threats from parents who refused to send their children to school.

According to one MP, a headteacher of a Nicosia primary school was beaten up, but he was too scared to report the incident to the police.

Teachers are being bullied, but this was happening before the pandemic.

Now it has found a more conducive environment to grow.

Following an emergency meeting involving ministers and the police, guards will be deployed at high-risk schools while patrols will be intensified.

Parents were bemoaning the unfairness of lockdown in denying their kids a quality education.

So when the government found a solution to keep schools open in the wake of rising coronavirus clusters, there was a backlash.

Instead, the police have to be deployed for teachers and children to feel safe while learning and navigating a new wave in virus infections.

I’m sure this is not the gift we wanted the Pope to take back to the Vatican.