Three thousand people — the majority of them students — marched from Mexico City’s Angel of Independence monument to the National Palace on Monday to protest the federal government’s proposal that schools reopen nationwide in June.
President López Obrador announced on May 18 that he wants students to return to in-person classes nationwide next month — although he also said that the choice of families and teachers about returning would be theirs to make.
“We are convinced that … it’s necessary to return before the school year ends due to the effect it has on children who see their classmates in person and not via the internet or on television,” López Obrador said, promising that every state would decide how to conduct their students’ return to classes, taking into account community needs.
However, protesters in Mexico City said that a return to classes when students are not vaccinated isn’t safe.
One of the student groups leading the protest, the Rafael Ramírez National Federation of Student Revolutionaries (FNERRR), which claims to have over 100,000 members from every state in the nation, summed up its opinion on their website: “Returning to classes without collective immunity is murder.”
Betsi Bravo García, a student at the National Autonomous University and one of the leaders of FNERRR, said after addressing a crowd gathered in front of the National Palace that their members will not return to school while students remain unvaccinated.
“We are protesting in every state simultaneously. We will return to classes when 70% of the population is vaccinated,” she said.
Several school marching bands accompanied the protesters as they filed down 5 de Mayo avenue, but despite the music, the mood was anything but festive.
Antonio Zacarías, a high school teacher who joined the protest, said he was worried about the reopening.
“They are vaccinating teachers, but we want them to vaccinate all the students as well,” he said.
Zacarías said 5.2 million students, fully 20% of Mexico’s student population, are neither studying online — likely because they lack internet or access to computers — nor working. He’s concerned about what will happen to them if they cannot return to school but also said, “The government and school authorities cannot force us to open schools. We want all students vaccinated.”
“We want the students to return,” María Mendoza, a mother at the protest with two children in school, said. “But what will happen without protection? Without vaccinations? The most important thing is health. We want them to return but only with proper protections and vaccines.”
Standing next to her was her nephew, Josué. When asked if he would return to in-person classes, he said, “With the vaccine, yes.”
Mexico has been wrapping up vaccinations of educational personnel this month and has made some initial forays into reopening schools. In Campeche, 137 schools in rural areas reopened in April to in-person classes, but state officials decided last week to close them again after the state went back this week from low-risk green on the national coronavirus stoplight map to medium-risk yellow.
In Guanajuato, 71 educational institutions — most of them private schools — have opened after the state education department organized a pilot reopening program that brought around 7,000 students back to in-person classes on May 11. Guanajuato concluded vaccination of its educational personnel on May 9.
Mexico City has announced that it will open its schools on June 7 on a staggered system to reduce class sizes. It finished its vaccinations of educational personnel on May 23. The return to in-person classes, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum stressed at a press conference on May 19, is entirely voluntary.
“At the first case [of Covid-19 detected at a school],” said Mexico City education minister Luis Humberto Fernández Fuentes, “it will be closed.”
But Martha Cabrera, a mother with school-aged children who attended the protest, said she is afraid of her children returning to classes.
“I will permit it if all the students and all the teachers are vaccinated and the schools have all the approved methods of sanitation in place. If only teachers are vaccinated, I will not let my children attend classes,” she said. “What is the plan if a student whose family is not vaccinated gets infected and that student returns to school? No one can guarantee that they will not infect other students.”
Bravo sees a cautionary tale in Campeche’s attempt at reopening schools and was adamant that students should not be returning to school in June.
“We cannot return to classes because of a possible outbreak of Covid,” she said. “An example is Campeche: they opened, and now they have suspended classes and there is an outbreak. Despite what they [authorities] say, we could all become infected.”
Mexico News Daily