ULYANOVSK, Russia -- Several days into a hunger strike, a protest is growing over the closing of several schools in Russia's central Ulyanovsk region, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.
Some 30 parents and teachers of middle school students are now on hunger strike, after a protest that began last week spread today to a second school.
The schools are among five that are being closed because of declining attendance and budget shortfalls, under a plan Ulyanovsk Mayor Sergei Panchin called "optimization."
Mayor's office spokesman Oleg Midlenko said that in the 1990s there were 100,000 students and about 100 schools. But he said that while attendance has dropped by more than half, the number of schools -- at 98 -- has barely changed.
"The prediction is that in the next five to 10 years the number of students will remain the same," he said. "We are preparing the system to be ideal for the next 20 to 25 years."
The protesters disagree, calling the process a "cleaning out."
Parents are angry that their children will have to travel farther to go to school and that students will have to study in shifts -- one group in the
morning and one in the afternoon.
Irina Malyamova, the former director of School No. 7, refused to sign a document from the mayor's office on the closing of the school and was fired. She said she doesn't see the economic benefits of closing the schools.
"Even if they close the school, they have to pay to heat the building in the winter; they have to secure the building against vandals," she said.
Officials from School No. 8 said they were given the choice of signing a deal to merge with another school in the area or to be fired.
Aleksei Kornienko, an Ulyanovsk representative in the Russian Duma, said there are no grounds for the closing of the schools.
"The criteria for closing a school: no cafeteria, no gym, low academic progress; none of these schools that are being closed have any of these
criteria," Kornienko said.
Panchin, a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, has not responded to the hunger strike.
Ulyanovsk, famous as the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin, is located on the Volga River and has a population of some 635,000 people.