Two families had even transferred their children to another school after learning of the arrival of the migrant children, lawyer Maria Antonella Taccori, who acts as a guardian for one of the boys, told The Local.
Parents had protested after the two boys, aged nine and 11, joined the private Our Lady of Mercy school in Cagliari.
Both boys are orphans who arrived in Sardinia last summer after being rescued during an attempted crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. They are living with host families on the island, with lawyers (Taccori and Marina Bardanzellu) acting as their legal guardians, as is the standard procedure for unaccompanied minors.
“There was discontent and prejudice among a minority of the parents and – it's unfortunate but it's the truth – among the children too, some of whom refused to use the same toilet as the new children,” said Taccori.
Teachers at the school allocated one of the toilets of the fifth class to the two new boys only, while the other was to be used by the Italian students, as a 'precautionary' measure intended to placate parents. When contacted by The Local, a school secretary said that the school's staff were not giving interviews to the media.
When they heard about the segregation, Bardanzellu and Taccori called a meeting with the parents of the boys' classmates to explain they did not pose any health risk. All migrants who arrive on Italian shores immediately undergo health checks, and both boys had medical certificates from Italy's public health authority (ASL).
“It was definitely a case of misinformation, but also prejudice – at the first meeting, even though we gave all the information; the children's stories, medical certificates and so on, some parents still didn't trust us. We reassured them but the discontent continued to show,” Taccori explained, and even after a second meeting with parents of all children at the school, a minority continued to complain.
“They claimed they should have been told before the children joined the school, but why should they be informed only when foreign children join? The school is open to everyone. It's a problem of acceptance,” explained the lawyer.
However, while some parents were unhappy at the enrollment of the two boys, others were concerned by the teachers' reaction. “This is true racism – it seems like Apartheid is back,” one mother with children at the school told La Stampa. “We want our children to be educated about acceptance.”
Taccori said that after the meetings, there has been more openness in the school, and the students are being more welcoming to their new classmates, who are now able to use the same toilets as everyone else.
“The situation is improving every day,” said Taccori, clearly proud of the boys. “The teachers have been very welcoming and the boys are very intelligent, they're starting to speak Italian and they're always smiling.”