French citizens block private school reform bill, 1984

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Timing
Time Period:  
January
1984
to
24 June
1984
Location and Goals
Country: 
France
Goals: 
To cancel, or at least change, the proposed private school education reform bill.
 

France has historically had a divide between public education and private education. On 13 January 1984 French Education Minister Alain Savary, under the Socialist government, announced a bill – known as the Savary bill – to reform state-supported private schools, which would partially integrate them into the public education system. Most importantly, the law would place private school budgets under public control, categorize private school teachers as civil servants, and add public review to some private school procedures including those regarding hiring and salary. The French government argued that it was time that it should have greater involvement in private school processes since it was significantly funding the schools. At the time, about 10,000 schools in France were private, attended by approximately 170,000 students. The majority of the schools were Roman Catholic, and the group responded intensely to the Savary bill.

The National Committee of Catholic Education (NCEE) mobilized to protest against the bill. The organization, along with other supporters of the private school system, argued that the legislation would limit academic freedom. The NCCE quickly organized five massive demonstrations over five weekends, beginning in late January, against the reform. The first four protests took place in Bordeaux, Lyon, Lille, and Rennes. Details of these protests are unclear, but research indicates that the number of participants grew each with each protest. In response to each anti-Savary bill protest, there were often smaller protests in support of the legislation.

Despite President Francois Mitterand stating in early March that the reform bill would not be introduced in the spring due to needed negotiations with Catholic education officials, on 4 March the NCEE held its largest demonstration yet.

According to police figures, 650,000 people took to the streets in Versailles, a suburb of Paris, protesting the legislation (according to the organizers, 800,000 people protested). Most of the protesters were Parisians who had come to the demonstration via 125 trains and 4,000 buses that had been rented by the NCEE.

Demonstrators carried signs reading, “In a free country, free schools," "Respect the constitution," and "I like choice." Some banners also demanded the resignation of Education Minister Alain Savary. Protesters dressed in red, white, and blue sashes – the colors of the French flag. In total, the protest cost 1.5 million francs.

Famous public figures included: Jacques Chirac, Paris’ Mayor and head of the conservative Rally for the Republic Party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, head of the anti-immigrant National Front Party, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Archbishop of Paris, and the wife of former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Anne-Aymone.

Consequently, Mitterand and the National Assembly met to discuss the Savary bill on 13 March. After the discussions, the National Assembly amended the legislation in June, sparking new protests.

On 22 June 1984, more than 500,000 protesters marched to Versailles to protest the bill, conducting actions similar to those on the March 4 demonstration. Likewise, on 24 June, 850,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Paris, marching on the Plas de la Bastille. Protesters denounced the plan and the Socialist government, including Savary. Some young demonstrators reportedly threw rocks at policemen. Thirty-five people were arrested, according to police figures. The June 24 demonstration was one of the largest in France post-World War II.

The massive protests caused President Mitterand to revoke the legislation and ask Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, whom Mitterand had assigned to oversee the bill, to resign. As the new prime minister, Jean-Pierre Chevènement rewrote a more moderate reform bill which was received well by all parties. The French demonstrations, in which over 1 million citizens participated, were successful.

Research Notes
Influences: 

France has a strong history of protests from groups and organizations across society, so the NCEE was undoubtedly influenced by that culture, although specific influences are not known (1).

Sources: 
“850,000 Jam Paris in a Schools Protest.” Dionne Jr. E. J. New York Times. 25 June 1984. <http://www.nytimes.com/1984/06/25/world/850000-jam-paris-in-a-schools-protest.html?scp=1&sq=Paris+Protest&st=nyt.>.

Associated Press. “More than 50,000 Protest Education Reforms in France.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 5 March 1984. <http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19840305&id=z-ohAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wWgEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6837,5737668>.

Duncan, Anne. “Fifth French protest over school reforms inundates Versailles.” The Globe and Mail. 5 March 1984.

Education in France: Continuity and Change in the Mitterand Years, 1981-1995. Ed. Corbett, Anne and Moon, Bob. Routledge. USA: 1996.

<http://books.google.com/books?id=v3U6wnRjX7cC&pg=PA350&lpg=PA350&dq=France+National+Committee+of+Catholic+Education&source=bl&ots=drku8Sed92&sig=YjqBCW9vANrvd7KIIFx5YcuBcq8&hl=en&ei=D2LRTvuAaPz0gGzv4kc&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CFsQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=protest&f=false>.

“France Wants Them Under Control: Private School Backers to Protest.” The Register-Guard. 4 March 1984. <http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=5PdVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=jOEDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6773,870722&dq=france+national+committee+of+catholic+education&hl=en>.

“France Educational System – Overview.” State University. <http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/480/France-EDUCATIONAL-SYSTEM-OVERVIEW.html>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Elliana Bisgaard-Church, 4/12/2011