A clash broke out Friday between hundreds of students and public order officers as they were prevented from studying at their historical school building in Pematang Siantar, North Sumatra.
The local administration was planning to move two schools out of their historical buildings in the city to make way for commercial projects.
State senior high school SMU 4 and state elementary school SDN 122350 were built during the Dutch Colonial era in the same complex on Jl. Patimura, Pematang Siantar.
The plan was strongly opposed by students, school committee members, alumni and members of the public, who demanded Pematang Siantar Mayor R.E. Siahaan immediately shelve it. Students have refused to move to the new building, which is located far way in a remote area.
There was no report of injuries after the violence at the SMU 4 building Friday, although during the scuffle, which also involved teachers and parents of the students, a fence of senior high school, SMU Negeri 4 Pematang Siantar was set ablaze. Students from SDN 122350 elementary school were at the scene but were not involved in the clash.
The students were protesting to the city administration for not returning the school’s furniture and other equipment, which had been confiscated by local public order officers, preventing them from being able to resume their normal studies at the schools on Friday.
The North Sumatra legislative council ordered the Pematang Siantar administration to return furniture and other school equipment seized from the two historical buildings by Friday at the latest.
However, the administration failed to comply with the deadline and instead sent public order officers to guard the schools.
Two weeks ago, public order security officers barricaded the schools, forcing students to study on mats as all the educational resources had been moved to the new building.
On July 16, hundreds of students, backed by nongovernmental organizations and residents, tore down the fences of the schools that were under the control of the local authorities.
However, although the students retook control of their schools they were still unable to study there normally because of the lack of furniture and other educational equipment.
“We want our classes to return to normal at this school. We will do whatever it takes to be able to stay at our historical school,” SMU 4 student leader Robby Kurniawan told The Jakarta Post.
He said many of the students had been ill since they have had to study sitting on mats or newspapers.
Robby disclosed students were often “intimidated” by local officials, including the subdistrict head, who warned them to transfer to the new school building.
“One of our friends was even beaten by plainclothes public order officers because he refused to move to the new building,” he added.