A small town fought back racism, and won

Islamic women protesting in Lodi

Lodi is one of the smallest provinces in Northern Italy, with about 45.000 inhabitants. You can easily reach it with a 40 minutes car ride from Milan or with one of the many trains that every hour leave the Central railway station. It’s nice and cozy, one of those place you seldom read about in newspapers. Until a few months ago.

On October 4th, 2017 Lodi’s mayor Sara Casanova — affiliated with Matteo Salvini’s far-right party “League” — signed a resolution that substantially changed the rules in the local school system, making it much more complicated for (regular) immigrant’s children to access preferential prices for the canteen and school bus services starting from the academic year 2018/2019.

Up to that moment, in order to enable children to eat in the school canteen and to benefit from the school bus at lower prices, families had to present the ISEE certification, a special document that attests the economical status of households based on many factors such as income, real estates, dependent children etc. This estimator is common in Italy and it’s used in many different contexts, being considered sufficiently neutral and reliable.

The new resolution in Lodi made it compulsory for parents born outside Europe to provide further documents that certifies their economical situation in the country of origin. The problem is that often these papers are hard to get in countries such as Egypt or Morocco, where the bureaucracy works differently than in Italy (or Europe). Families had to get in touch autonomously with the different offices, sometimes also traveling directly to their hometown at their own expenses only to come back empty handed. Furthermore, Lodi’s district offices employed very strict criteria when processing the applications, ending up rejecting most of them with unclear explanations. Only four countries where excluded from these duties: Afghanistan, Libya, Siria and Yemen. The newspaper “Il Fatto Quotidiano”explains that this selection was based on a “list of countries at risk” set out by a London based society that analyzes economic and trade relationship among countries and which has nothing to do with schools or education, therefore many people wondered how the administration could possibly have decided to adopt this list for the issue at stake.

Donne musulmane a Lodi

At the opening of the new academic year children whose parents couldn’t manage to provide the needed documents (more than 200 kids, almost all the ones with extra-EU parents) had to pay the highest amount for the canteen — passing from 2,10€ to 5€ per meal — and the school bus, which increased from 90€ to 210€ every three months. Many families couldn’t afford these rates. Their children were denied access to the school canteen and were not provided the snack usually supplied to students by mid-morning. Exceptionally, two schools allowed these children to eat their own food in a room separated from the main hall, but all the others students had to go home, eat and come back for the afternoon classes. Children didn’t understand why they were taken away from their friends and peers, and apparently nobody was ready to explain them what racism really means. Many also claimed that kids had nothing to do with politics and therefore shouldn’t suffer for this kind of decisions.

Soon, the situation created a neat distinction: Italian children could use the school bus and eat at the canteen as they always did, while suddenly immigrants — although born and raised in Italy — lost this right. The new regulation has been interpreted as a clear attempt to distance immigrants’ children from schools and the whole education system of the province, privileging instead Italian ones. The magazine Wired referred to this as a form of apartheid.

The issue was highly covered by the media and mentioned by the main national newspapers and news broadcasters.

The oppositions didn’t stay quiet. A few days after the beginning of the school year the local association “Uguali Doveri” (Same duties) started a fundraising campaign to help families cover the extra costs they faced. By October 14th 2018 the group raised had 60.000€, enough to make sure every children could have lunch at school for at least two months.

At the same time ASGI and NAGA, two important associations focused on migrants, appealed to the Court of Milan claiming that the new regulation is discriminatory.

On December 13th— roughly two month after mayor Casanova approved the new rules — the Court sentenced the municipality of Lodi and ordered for the new regulation to be abandoned, going back to a situation where families who wished to take advantage of reduced tarifs had to provide the ISEE regardless of their origins.

All that glitters is not gold: the Minister of the Interior and Vice PM Matteo Salvini said that his party, the League, will go on fighting for Casanova’s decisions to be implemented, stating that he «can’t see any problem with them». We’ll see. Up to now, racism has been defeated once again.

A previous version of the article misreported the size of Lodi’s population. I regret the mistake.


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