Brazil considers bulletproofing schools after boy is shot

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 currently studying plans to introduce reinforced walls and bulletproof windows in order to protect an estimated 100,000 students and 5,000 teachers who study and work in "at-risk areas".

They follow the fatal shooting of Wesley Gilbert de Andrade, an 11-year-old student who was shot through the heart by a stray bullet while inside his primary school on Friday. 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," Costin said. "If they think it is a good idea, yes, we will do it."

A spokesperson for Rio's education secretariat told the Guardian 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 offering "quality education" to students, 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.

While politicians and security experts have praised a fledgling "pacification" initiative that has driven armed gangs from around 11 shanty towns, Friday's shooting was a reminder that the majority of Rio's 1,000-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 and 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 in the last 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 burnout syndrome and made it hard 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.

(Published by The Guardian – July 20, 2010)

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