Rio set to bulletproof favela schools

Authorities in Rio de Janeiro are under renewed pressure to bulletproof up to 200 schools in conflict-stricken areas, after an 11-year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet during a maths lesson.

According to local reports, city authorities are studying plans to introduce reinforced walls and bulletproof windows to protect an estimated 100 000 pupils and 5000 teachers who study and work in “at-risk areas”.

They follow the fatal shooting of Wesley Gilbert de Andrade, an 11-year-old pupil who was shot through the heart by a stray bullet while inside his primary school on July 16. The shooting happened during a police operation against drug gangs operating in slums near the school, among them a favela named Final Feliz, or Happy Ending.

Speaking to the O Dia newspaper, Rio’s education secretary, Claudia Costin, said authorities were considering a range of moves to improve security, including bulletproofing.

“I will talk to the school’s staff to see if this [bulletproofing] might be useful,” said Costin. “If they think it is a good idea, yes, we will do it.”

A spokesperson for Rio’s education secretariat said that Costin would not comment further on possible changes to school security. A spokesperson for the city’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, denied the plans.

In a statement, the town hall said its priority was to offer “quality education” to pupils, above all those from “schools in at-risk areas”.

“The town hall has faith in the ... policy of pacification, which has freed communities from the control of organised crime,” it added.

Although politicians and security experts have praised a fledgling “pacification” initiative that has driven armed gangs from around 11 shanty towns, the shooting was a reminder that the majority of Rio’s 1000-odd slums are still controlled by armed gangs or vigilante groups.

Edna Felix, a director of Rio’s teachers’ union, said many schools urgently needed bulletproofing and called for “the immediate suspension of police operations during school hours”.

“When there is a confrontation, as soon as we hear the first shot, we have to leave the classroom, run to the corridor, duck, try to get the children out of the way,” said Felix, a primary school teacher in the notorious Morro dos Macacos favela, who has taught in some of Rio’s most deprived areas over the past 30 years.

“The kids get very scared, they cry. It’s not just the fear of what might happen to them inside the school but also because they have family members outside in the community. Many of the children have relatives who are involved in drug trafficking and get scared something will happen to them.”

Felix said the threat of violence in and around Rio’s schools had caused a spike in work-related illnesses, such as burn-out syndrome, and made it difficult to recruit teachers for such schools.

“People do everything they can not to end up in a school [in an at-risk area],” she said.—Guardian News & Media 2010



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