It’s back-to-school week in Norway, but not all students are returning to festive opening ceremonies at their local schools. Fears of violence and assaults even on teachers has prompted one high school in Oslo to control entry, prompting at least one of its teacher to resign in protest.
Silje Gloppen, age 37, told newspaper Dagsavisen that she loved her students and colleagues and felt she had an important job at the Bjørnholt high school on Oslo’s southeast side. “But it’s become impossible for me to be part of a system that I view as a betrayal of young people and their future,” Gloppen said.
She was among those reacting negatively to the school administration’s decision to install entry gates at the school that require entry cards issued only to those registered or working at the school. Vehicles will also have “limited possibilities” to drive onto the schoolgrounds, according to the school’s own website. “We have had several unfortunate episodes and threats of violence,” Else Birgitte Roscher-Nielsen, rector at Bjørnholt videregående skole, told newspaper Aftenposten last week.
The new gates are aimed at keeping out students from other schools, along with gangs who come to the school to cause trouble. Anyone visiting the school will have to sign in at a reception desk. The new system has been set up on a two-year trial basis with permission from the City of Oslo, police and organizations within the school.
Students, however, were not informed in advance and weren’t pleased either, with their leader Fatoumata Kanyi equating it to “the kind of security systems only seen in the USA. We don’t have such a bad milieu here that we need this,” she told Aftenposten. After a meeting with Roscher-Nielsen, she doesn’t think it’s so “stupid” after all, but she remains disappointed that the students weren’t consulted. Rahman Akhtar Chaudhry, another student leader at the school, agreed. “The students must be part of deciding over their own school days,” Chadhry told Aftenposten.
The extra security comes after a period of youth unrest in east Oslo earlier this summer, and several incidents of violence during the last school year. Dagsavisen has reported on 20 violent episodes against both teachers and students at the Stovner high school, including a teacher being struck in the face by a 16-year-old girl, 17 fights reported among students and threats lodged against several teachers. Jarle Kolstad of the local Stovner Police Station said the problems at Stovner aren’t different from those at other schools including Hellerud, Hersleb, Holtet, Etterstad, Bjørnholt and Ulsrud. He said violent episodes were especially rising among students aged 13-15 who are still at local intermediate schools. Total numbers of episodes are down in some cases but the violence is more serious.
Official mum on security guards
School district officials have called for installing more security guards in the schools, not least after one student at the Ulsrud high school in Oslo’s Bøler district threatened to burn down a teacher’s house. Teachers also reportedly command little respect from their students who often swear at them, call them “idiots” or yell at them to “shut up.”
Two guards were hired at Ulsrud with permission from Oslo school district officials, confirmed rector David Dunlop to Dagsavisen. It remains unclear how many guards may be on patrol at other schools. News bureau NTB reported over the weekend that when politicians from the Conservative Party asked Oslo city officials which schools had security guards on duty, they were told such information would not be released. The politicians claimed Oslo’s Labour-led city government was thus trying to downplay the problem of violence in local schools.
Gloppen, the teacher who resigned in protest over the new security system at Bjørnholt, maintains that the response to violence has taken a wrong turn. She wants to see more efforts aimed at preventing violence, and at guiding teachers who are confronted with violent situations. Gloppen cites a “lack of competence” in dealing with students who come from poor families, have come to Norway as refugees and are traumatized by war and homelessness, have psychological problems and face culture shock in Norway. Setting up gates at the school is not, Gloppen thinks, the best way to address such problems and rather signals a lack of confidence in the studentbody.