• July 30, 2015
  • 309

Zbigniew Balcewicz: “Lelewel” in the face of eviction. Difficult questions without answers (1)

How could it happen that in Vilnius, a progymnasium that has above 800 students still does not have its own dedicated building while a smaller school has two that are half empty ? – rhetorically asked councillor Darius Kuolys at the Vilnius City Council session that took place this year on July 15th, when discussing the question about the Joachim Lelewel Secondary School. He directed his question primarily at the former councillors present at the meeting.

“Every child, no matter the place of residence, was automatically accepted to the secondary school situated next to the Lelewel School in the Antakalnis eldership.” – was the answer from councillor Jarosław Kamiński, former vice-mayor, who was responsible for the education in the capital in the past tenure.

To answer D. Kuolys’ question, the director of Education, Culture and Sports Department, Gintaras Alfonsas Petronis, explained: “… we mainly tried to resolve the problem of students distribution in such large school in a way that allowed the preservation of the Secondary School in Antakalnis eldership. We are grateful to Joachim Lelewel Secondary School for their understanding. They accommodated the primary classes and also made third floor, that is the whole wing of the building they have, available. In order to preserve Antakalnis Secondary School we decided to reorganize it into gymnasium and progymnasium. Thus three schools have found themselves situated in two neighbouring buildings.”

The director did not explain why the Antakalnis Eldership Secondary School does not have its own building.

J. Kamiński replied that the school itself is to blame for this state of affairs because it accepted too many students including those from outside its recruitment area. EAPL (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania) councillor, Zbigniew Maciejewski, which in the past tenure held the position of the chairman deputy of the Committee on Education, Culture and Sports, asked G.A. Petronis about the percent of students in the progymnasium from outside of the recruitment area. The answer was that in this school, similarly to J. Lelewel Secondary School there are students not only from the area designated by the authorities.

Here, the question arises: is recruitment of students from the outside of the assigned territory a violation of law? I think that every educational institution can be happy not only from every single student it accommodates but also from the fact that parents decide to choose a particular school despite longer or more difficult access by means of transport. It is hard to imagine that some of the parents bring their children to Antakalnis Eldership Secondary School only to take the neighbouring building from the Polish school. But if to treat accepting children from outside the recruitment area as a violation of law, shouldn’t city officials with vice-mayor on top do something about it instead of just passively observe it? And why didn’t they propose to the management, the teaching staff and the whole community of J. Lelewel Secondary School to get information from their neighbours on how to attract more students?

City Council plans

The discussed resolution project “About the reorganisation of Joachim Lelewel Secondary School and the change of its residence” assumed, among other things, the conversion of this institution into “Joachim Lelewel Vlinius School, with liquidation of its branch on Minites 3 street in Vilnius and arrangement that after its reorganisation it will function only in some rooms on Minites 3 street in Vilnius until the 31st of August 2016”. Simultaneously, the project stated that this year’s resolution from June 17th about not completing 11 to 12 classes is to be cancelled.

As stated by G.A. Petronis who is responsible for presenting the project of the resolution, in the past year 462 students attended the J. Lelewel Secondary School. 130 of them studied in A. Wiwulski branch situated in Zirmunai eldership on Minites 3 street (building designated for 452 students) while the rest, that is 332 students – in the Antakalnis eldership on Antakalno 33 street (building designated for 802 students). As mentioned earlier, in the latter building the whole wing is occupied by 400 students from Antakalnis Progymnasium (almost half of the designated space). The rest of the progymnasium students had lessons in the neighbouring building belonging to Antakalnis Gymnasium which is situated on Antakalno 31 street (historical building of the old “fifth”) and can accommodate, with a separate extension, 784 students. In the past year 494 children studied here.

After allowing J. Lelewel Secondary School to complete 11 to 12 classes in the upcoming school year it will teach about 480 students. According to City Council plans, the building on Minities 3 street is to be thoroughly renovated and adapted for the Lelewel School’s purposes in the ensuing year (excluding its exterior, which is to be renovated a year later because of difficulties of refurbishing it in winter). The renovation will be funded from the European funds, which are going to be guaranteed through council’s resolution.

Dispute about how it looks

A week before the aforementioned Vilnius City Council session, EAPL distributed “statistical data, which proved how the current government lies about schools of national minorities, including the legendary ‘fifth’”. According to this publication “J. Lelewel Secondary School is populated in 84% of its capacity which is not only better than the average school population number in Vilnius but also than other schools with Lithuanian as their primary language.” It is not known why authors of this publication assume that the building of Lelewel School can accommodate 552 students (according to the local government data it can take in 802 students) and that 462 students attended classes from September 1st  2014 (332 according to the local government). The Polish politicians probably included the number of students from Antakalnis Progymnasium in their research, considering it as something normal.

Speaking at the council session, councillor of the fraction “Waldemar Tomaszewski Unit”, Edita Tamošiūnaitė, stated that in agreement with an appropriate ordinance coming from the city government J. Lelewel Secondary School had been given not only 205 streets from Antakalnis eldership but also streets from adjacent urban areas, including outskirts of Vilnius where other schools with Polish or Russian as their primary language do not exist. Moving the school from Antakalnis to Zirmunai would leave this territory without any institution of this type. Meanwhile in Zirmunai eldership there are several Russian-language schools and Władysław Syrkomla Polish-language school. Decision to move J. Lelewel School would be, according to counsellor Tamošiūnaitė, standing in opposition to the idea of education which purpose is to be closer to everyone, not further away. Trying to appeal to the conscience of her colleagues, she asked them rhetorically if they can imagine the road which the freshmen would have to travel in order to get to the school in Zirmunai.  Tamošiūnaitė also informed gathered councillors that Antakalnis Progymnasium had been given only 71 streets, which is only a third of those given to J. Lelewel Secondary School and that 39% of progymnasium students come from outside the assigned recruitment area.

“Maybe the city government wants Polish parents to send their children to Lithuanian-speaking schools? – rhetorically asked councillor Tamošiūnaitė.

Mayor of Vilnius, Remigijus Šimašius replied that the distance between the schools in Antakalnis and Zirmunai is only 500 metres, which should not be additionally difficult for children to travel.

Councillor of the “Unit”, Artur Ludkowski, who, as he pointed himself, is a member of the Vilnius City Council since 2003, described the project of the current governing coalition about allowing to complete 11 to 12 classes in exchange for moving the J. Lelewel School to a different location as “blackmail”. He underlined that the renovation of the current school building was funded by the Polish government under one condition –  that the school will be functioning in its current place.

“Does the local government plans to return the invested money to Poland?” – the councillor asked . He also proposed to move the gymnasium to the other side of the Neris river since “the distance between those two spots is only 500 metres”.

Did they know, what they were doing?

That is the question to the people whose tenure already ended. Unfortunately, serving councillors did not hear the answer to the question asked by Darius Kuolys: why is Antakalnis Progymnasium still without its own building while J. Lelewel Secondary School still has two half empty buildings after A. Wiwulski School was joined with it. What were past tenure EAPL councillors and its representatives responsible for education thinking. What were doing: vice-mayor Jarosław Kamiński, vice-director of local government administration Danuta Narbut and many other Polish servicemen in capital governing structures? Why didn’t they propose to transfer Antakalnis Gymnasium to the former building of the A. Wiwulski School in which it could easily fit when they had “support and understanding” from the former mayor Artūras Zuokas?

Politics without compromises

“Unit” fraction councillors proposed to reject the project of the resolution with the exception of par. 7 which concerned completing 11 to 12 classes in the upcoming school year. They had no other proposals.

Unsurprisingly, the City Council voted for the implementation of the resolution. 31 votes “for” came from the governing coalition while 9 votes “against” came from the “Unit” fraction, while one councillor, Rafael Muksinov, abstained from voting. 10 councillors from the opposition, including former EAPL coalition members from past tenure did not take part in the voting.

Zbigniew Balcewicz

Sygnatory of the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania

Translated by Marcin Wus within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

Related post

Teachers continue to protest. “Lesson of civic attitude” at the government headquarters

Several thousand teachers in Lithuania on Friday, September 29, began an indefinite strike. “It was a…

VLKK: legalisation of female surnames with an ‘-a’ ending would have a negative impact on the…

Legalising the spelling of female surnames with the ending ‘-a’ would have a negative impact on…

National Reading in Šalčininkai

On September 9, the Public Library of the Šalčininkai District Municipality organised a National Reading event.…