Police department takeover of Hatay high school disrupts education since Feb. 6 quakes

The public high school building in Turkey’s southern Hatay province was taken over by the police department after the Feb. 6 earthquakes. Students, teachers, and parents demanded to reclaim the building, citing the difficult and unfair education conditions of the past 15 months. 

Fatih Saygın / Gazete Duvar

In Turkey’s southern Hatay province, three public high school buildings were taken over by public institutions to resume operation after their offices suffered destruction in the Feb. 6 earthquakes. 

The Selim Nevzat Şahin Public High School was one of them, whose students were transferred to the neighboring middle school as the building was taken over by the Hatay Provincial Police Department. 

Some 15 months after the earthquakes, the police department still uses the building while the other government offices moved to new buildings.

Meanwhile, the middle school was forced to take in students double its capacity and implemented a shift system to accommodate the newcomer high school class. 

Accordingly, high school students used the building from 07:20 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and middle school students had classes from 12:40 p.m. onwards.

Due to time constraints, break times at the school were also reduced to five minutes. Also, classes were reduced from the standard 40 to 30 minutes, which amounted to 45 fewer days of instruction per year. 

Parents held two press statements to address the issue and complained that they could not obtain information about when the school would be vacated.

They held that their children's already disrupted education was further affected without their school buildings. They stated that their children could not receive an education equal to their peers and were at a disadvantage.

One parent said, "People might think life has returned to normal in Hatay, but nothing has improved here. We just want our children to be able to receive education like other students."

Another parent noted that no plan has been presented for returning the school building to the students, adding, "There's no initiative. They tell us that there are students taking classes in containers whose situation is worse than ours. They want us to be thankful by showing us worse conditions."

Özgür Tıraş, the president of the Teachers and Science Workers Union (Eğitim-Sen) Hatay Branch, said they had discussions with the police department about vacating the school, but they were not willing to leave the building. 

Tıraş mentioned that three out of nine high schools in the province’s Defne district were damaged after the earthquake. Another three were taken over by state institutions.

Tıraş emphasized that the high school students were at a disadvantage due to their schedules, adding that the early mornings forced upon them disrupted their routines. 

“Students lose 80 minutes every day. This situation must be corrected immediately," the union representative said. 

Pointing out the lack of action in education after the earthquake, Tıraş said that not a single new school has been built in the province, nor has a damaged school building been reinforced to be opened for education even though 15 months have passed since.

He continued, “Education is vital here. For children who have experienced trauma due to the earthquake, being in a school environment is crucial not only academically but also socially and psychologically.” 

Education was not the only neglected field in the province. Tıraş emphasized that Hatay still has not obtained humane living conditions from education to health, from transportation to housing. 

Tıraş added in support of the parents' legitimate demands:

"Our demand is clear; the schools belong to the students, and the Police Department must vacate the school immediately. Actions that could negatively affect our children's future should not be taken."

Hatay was the most affected province by the 7.7 and 7.6-magnitude earthquakes that struck southeastern Turkey on Feb. 6, 2023.

At least 23,000 people died, thousands of buildings were destroyed and hundreds of thousands were left homeless in the province.  

 (English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)