Italians removing children from racially mixed schools

Classroom aversion to immigrants may reflect tensions in politics and society in general

Milan

Italy’s racial tensions are now manifesting themselves in the country’s schools, with evidence that Italian parents are removing their children from classrooms that they consider contain too many immigrants.

In perhaps the most clear cut case so far, in the village of Corti, near the northern city of Bergamo, all seven Italian children have been withdrawn from a first-year elementary school class where they were outnumbered by non-Italian pupils. The remaining 14 children are mainly Africans (mostly Moroccans) with some Albanians and Romanians.

Marinella Ducoli Bertoni, 57, the school’s head teacher, said:  “Until July, the parents assured me that they were going to send their children to the school. Then one by one the families changed their minds. I’ve returned to school and I found that they’re all gone.”

It started with “little things, such as the fear of not being able to celebrate Christmas. It was a feeling of uncertainty that spread slowly and changed the minds even of those who’d had their other children with us for five years,” she told La Repubblica newspaper.

“I don’t think you can talk of racism,” she said. “In all these years there’s never been a problem with the holidays of different religions. The Arab families never complained if we spoke about Christmas; they understood that at school it’s a cultural thing, not a religious one.”

The area around Bergamo is a stronghold of Lega Nord, the populist, anti-immigrant party that has led the racist abuse hurled at Italy’s first black minister, Cecile Kyenge.

But schools in other parts of the country, from Milan to Palermo, have experienced similar incidents. In Rome in 2009, a mother withdrew her sons from the Carlo Pisacane elementary school because she said there were too many foreign children.

And in July this year in Reggio Emilia, a group of Italian parents wrote to the mayor complaining that over two thirds of the pupils there were non-Italian.

The previous Berlusconi government introduced guidelines in January 2010 that said the proportion of foreign students per school should not exceed 30 per cent, a level that appears to have been exceeded in some cases.

Ms Kyenge, the minister for integration, this morning called for children to remain integrated at school to avoid the creation of ghettos.

“It’s wrong to refuse to stay with foreign students,” she said. “It’s not easy to judge, but the school cannot give up its role as place for integration.

The Congolese-born minister of has enraged racists by quietly but insistently pressing ahead with her equality agenda.

She wants legislation that will automatically grant citizenship to the children of legal immigrants who are born in Italy – as already occurs in many other western countries.

But the plans have angered extremists in Lega Nord, and activists in neo-fascist parties.

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