SÃO PAULO — A protest by students and teachers from Brazil’s São Paulo state descended into violence on Thursday when masked protesters, claiming to be Black Bloc anarchists, attacked the entrance to the local government headquarters.
The violence came after around 1,500 people had marched seven kilometres from Faria Lima to the Palácio dos Bandeirantes, in the sweltering heat, to protest the restructuring of the state’s public schools.
After protesters stopped outside the government headquarters to give rallying speeches over loud speakers, masked protesters hurled rocks and fireworks into the palace grounds and at military police and riot troops guarding the entrance from inside.
Unable to break through the metal gates and side door, some protesters began vandalising the entrance.
Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds. Some protesters threw rocks at cars in the immediate vicinity of the headquarters.
Despite the violent scenes, the majority of the protest was peaceful. It was the third in a series of demonstrations that appears to be gathering momentum.
The protesters are angry at a proposal by the government to restructure its network of schools: each facility would teach one age group — 1st to 5th grades, or 6th to 9th grades — with no overlapping within a radius of 1.5 kilometres.
Up to 1,000 schools and over 1 million students would be affected, according to the Folha de S.Paulo, meaning many students would be transferred to different schools.
The government argues the restructuring is necessary because the public system has been losing students at a rate of 1.3% a year, or around 2 million students since 1998, leading to a surplus that it would close to cut costs.
Teachers and students argue that the surplus should instead be used to reduce the number of students in a class, which currently ranges between 30 and 40, according to teaching staff, to around 25 – a far more manageable number.
The protesters say the proposal will close up to 1,000 schools and threaten as many as 20,000 jobs, as well as increasing overcrowding and forcing students to travel further to go to school.
It comes after public sector teachers went on strike earlier this year for a record 89 days. As well as demanding high wages, the staff insisted class sizes be reduced as part of a package to improve working conditions.