Buenos Aires province Governor María Eugenia Vidal has issued a thinly veiled criticism of teachers unions, using a statement to accuse "certain sectors" of seeking to exploit a fatal school gas explosion for political gain.
In a statement posted on her Facebook page, Vidal said she was mourning the victims of the explosion at the Public School No. 49 “Nicolás Avellaneda” in the Greater Buenos Aires district of Moreno, in which a deputy principal and teaching assistant were killed at 7am Thursday morning.
The explosion occurred a few minutes before children were due to enter class, preventing a larger tragedy. Those killed have been identified as Sandra Calamano, 48, the school’s deputy principal and, Rubén Orlando Rodríguez, 45, a teacher’s assistant.
"For all the bonaerenses, and also for me, these are days of mourning over the death of Sandra and Rubén at School 49 de Moreno," she wrote. "Out of respect for the mourning of the families of the victims, and to avoid the political use that I see from certain sectors about this tragedy, I remain silent today, but we will clarify, as always, everything that is necessary."
The governor of the nation's most populous province and President Mauricio Macri have been criticised by some sectors for failing to address the explosion at public events.
Tensions are high in the education sector, with teachers in Buenos Aires province engaging in walk-outs over ongoing collective wage bargaining talks with the Vidal government. Teachers from Buenos Aires City and province held a “Day of mourning” yesterday, with teachers unions calling a 24-hour strike and staging marches at various locations to demand justice for the victims.
The Union of Education Workers (UTE) also issued a statement yesterday, saying "we demand justice for the dead comrades in Moreno. We stiked because these two deaths, caused by neglect and underinvestment in education can not be missed, they should be a wake-up call, so that a school never again reaches these conditions of insecurity."
An issue with the supply of gas to the kitchen of the school had been reported at least eight time to provincial authorities, the school’s principal said yesterday.
“We sent many complaints about the situation. They would take a week to come and check. It’s an embarrassment. No provincial school offers the necessary conditions to give classes,” the school’s principal Héctor Vizio told reporters yesterday.
Vizio has been on leave as principal since earlier in the year, after he was shot at the entrance of the school.
“She died for the kids. She was at the school because she did not want the kids to go without food, she was preparing their breakfast,” a teacher named Debora told the press, referring to the late deputy principal.“Our school is like a family. We spend eight ours here. It’s not fair for them to say we hold the kids hostage, while they force us to work in these conditions.”
Moreno is governed by a Peronist mayor linked to former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Wálter Festa. The district’s school board has been under trusteeship since late 2017 and is currently controlled by public officials linked to Governor María Eugenia Vidal.