Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta announced late Sunday night that schools in the nation’s capital will be open tomorrow, in defiance of President Alberto Fernández’s wishes.
The opposition leader said at a press conference that “every day counts” for students and that his government would adhere to a ruling earlier in the day by a City appeals court that supported the federal capital’s autonomy on the issue.
"The justice system has just determined that, according to the autonomy that the City of Buenos Aires has, we can guarantee the continuity of face-to-face classes. Tomorrow there will be in-person classes," said Rodríguez Larreta, flanked by several ministers and officials.
The mayor, who last week attacked Fernández’s decision to shutter schools in Greater Buenos Aires until the end of April, said that education had to be prioritised.
"We have to be very prudent and deliver peace of mind to homes so they know that all our decisions are based on data, evidence, and health experts," he said.
Last Wednesday, Fernández announced a tightening of coronavirus restrictions to stem a surge in Covid-19 cases, especially in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA).
Rodríguez Larreta – who on Friday vowed to do “everything possible” to ensure educational institutions in the capital remain open – said his administration would abide by a ruling by the Chamber of Appeals in Administrative, Tax and Consumer Relations in Buenos Aires, issued in response to two legal appeals from NGOs (Abramos las Escuelas and the Centro de Estudios de Políticas Públicas).
The court’s three judges unanimously ruled that responsibility for the provision of classes was solely the "local Executive power," rejecting the president's measures issued by emergency decree and saying they would “directly violate the autonomy of the City of Buenos Aires."
Rodríguez Larreta’s government has also filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on the issue, but the nation’s highest tribunal has not yet taken it up.
Addressing tensions with the Casa Rosada, City mayor said he wanted to "reaffirm" his "conviction regarding dialogue with the national government," though he said he had not spoken to the president today.
"Education cannot be a reason to deepen la grieta [“the rift,” a reference to Argentina’s stark polarisation]. It has to help us close it. We cannot afford not to be working together for a better education. It has to be a priority for everyone," he said.
Rodríguez Larreta said that his government would do everything possible to protect students and teachers and announced that three main changes would be introduced to minimise risk of contagion: All adult education would be provided virtually for the next weeks; City government workers will be deployed at entrances and exits of schools to ensure safe hygiene and social distancing; Times for classes and different year groups will be reorganised and staggered to avoid groups of people.
Despite the news, a number of schools in the capital have notified parents that schooling will take place remotely on Monday. It is assumed they will return to in-person classes on Tuesday, once they have adapted to the new timetabling challenges.
Fernández has yet to respond to the City mayor's press conference, though earlier in the day he did comment on the appeals court’s ruling. The Peronist leader questioned jurisdiction, telling the El Destape website that “they are taking measures that are the exclusive domain of federal justice.”
"A sanitary measure from the national government is suspended by the Buenos Aires justice system, a local jurisdiction, [which is] manifestly incompetent in resolving federal issues," said the president.
The national government’s Justice Minister Martín Soria also criticised the ruling on Twitter, describing it as “political.”
He warned that "the prosecutor, the judges and the City government must be held responsible for the health consequences of this measure."
Journalist Leandro Santoro reported Sunday that the national government would file an appeal against the ruling on Monday.
Responding to the day's developments, at least two education workers’ unions announced a strike on Monday.
The developments come with Argentina in the grip of a so-called Covid-19 ‘second wave.’ Infections have surged over the past week, especially in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA), where a third of the population lives. Occupancy in intensive care units in the region currently stands at 74.2 percent.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry said that 16,267 new coronavirus cases had been recorded over the preceding 24 hours, lifting the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 2,694,014. Officials also registered 65 fatalities, lifting the death toll to 59,228.In his press conference,
In a statement, the portfolio said that "in the epidemiological context of the AMBA, where the number of cases shows exponential growth with high speed, it is impossible to separate the individual risk from the collective risk."
That is why "individual measures in educational institutions are not enough," it read, adding that it is "necessary to implement collective measures to impact community transmission."