Mexico teachers disrupt Congress to protest reform

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Public school teachers block Reforma Avenue, near Senate chambers, in Mexico City, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. The protesting teachers oppose Mexico’s educational reform signed into law earlier this year. The most controversial piece of the reform would create a professional system for hiring, evaluating and promoting teachers without the “discretionary criteria” currently used in a system where teaching positions are often bought or inherited. AP

MEXICO CITY – Thousands of teachers blocked access to Mexico’s chamber of deputies on Wednesday to protest education reform legislation, forcing lawmakers to move their special session to a convention center.

Ninety of 128 senators and more than 300 deputies crammed into the smaller Senate across town for the opening ceremony, with some standing in the galleries, before taking the debate on the education laws to the convention center.

Francisco Bravo, a leader of the CNTE teachers union, said 50,000 educators have descended on the capital from across Mexico to protest the legislation.

“Our demand is for them not to vote the laws, that they suspend the process and that we enter into negotiations that take the teachers’ point of view into consideration,” Bravo told AFP.

President Enrique Pena Nieto pushed through Congress changes to the constitution in December in order to put education, which was in the hands of powerful unions, back under government control and require teachers to undergo mandatory performance appraisals.

Lawmakers are now debating legislation that would implement the new laws, which have prompted protests and strikes in the southern states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca in recent months.

The school year began on Monday across Mexico but 70,000 teachers went on strike in Oaxaca, leaving more than one million children without class.

On Monday night, about 100 teachers managed to burst into the chamber of deputies. Outside, police dispersed protesters who threw rocks and overturned a car in incidents that officials said left 20 federal officers injured.

The teachers say the mandatory testing should only be used to help them improve, not to fire them or decide promotions.

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