Children across Italy protest over covid school closures

Draghi asked to reopen Italy's schools "whatever it takes."

Thousands of parents, children and teachers took to the streets in more than 30 cities across Italy yesterday to protest against the ongoing closure of schools under the nation's covid-19 restrictions.

Most schools in Italy, from kindergartens to high school, have been closed since 15 March when the government of Mario Draghi tightened measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Since then millions of students of all ages have reverted to the distance learning methods first implemented in the covid-19 lockdown of last spring, attending lessons online from home.

Sunday's protests, whose number of demonstrators was limited due to covid rules, marked the first significant people-powered challenge to Draghi's coalition since it took office last month.

Demonstrators in Milan filled Piazza del Duomo with schoolbags and hand-written slogans while Rome protesters highlighted the impact of closures on students' education by wearing dunce’s caps.

Placards contained messages such as "We want to go back to school," “My home is not a school,” and “Open schools, whatever it takes,” a reference to Draghi’s pledge to save the euro when he was the European Central Bank chief in 2012.

"Students have always respected the rules diligently and it is not fair that they have been among the most penalised by this lockdown," read a statement from the Venice-based mothers' group Scuole Aperte.

"Education is not just about knowledge, but about experiences and relationships that cannot be conveyed by a video lesson" - said Scuole Aperte - "School in person is essential for the growth and psychological health of children and young people.”

Also getting behind the reopening of schools - at kindergarten and primary level at least - is Francesco Vaia, director of Rome's Lazzaro Spallanzani hospital, a specialist centre for infectious diseases which has played a central role in battling Italy's covid-19 crisis.

Vaia suggests "guaranteeing safety" by ensuring that school staff are vaccinated and has proposed the reopening of the Spallanzani creche on a trial basis, allowing hospital staff to bring their children to work "in peace," reports online newspaper RomaToday.

"We have to get the country out of depression" - Vaia said - "Italians are tired, disheartened. My thoughts go above all to young families with children who attend kindergarten and primary school."

Italy's schools have closed and reopened at varying times since the start of the covid-19 outbreak more than a year ago, depending on the age group and local infection rates.

Senior high school students have been worst affected by the closures which currently apply to all levels in Italy's 'red zones,' meaning that parents either have to work from home or pay for child care.

The government says the closures are necessary to curb rising infection rates however Draghi said on Friday that schools would be "the first sector to reopen, as soon as the contagion situation allows."

Cover photo by ilmamilio.it