Criminals trying to recruit students. Brawls between different ethnic groups. Drug dealing. Welcome to the prestigious Värnhem School in central Mälmo. Swedish newspaper Expressen paints a stark picture of the school confronted with so many trouble and problems, it had to install fences and hire security personnel. Still the situation got so out of hand the school had to close down for two days after large, running battles within the school, a week before its students were to serve dinner at the annual Nobel Prize banquet.
Friday, 18 November 2016. A young man gets irritated when some guys of different nationalities looked at his girl the wrong way. He confronts them and a fight erupts between newly arrived students from the Middle East and Afghanistan. Their relationship with the school has long been tense, and now, from all corners of the school, more rush up the stairs, into the cafeteria to take part in the fighting.
The fighting spreads, spilling out into the streets around the school. There, a student is beaten up so severely by multiple people, an ambulance has to take him to hospital. Three times the fighting flairs up again. At the end of the afternoon, the school’s administration, after consultation with the police, decides to close the school completely. Almost two thousand students are sent home. The Board of Education takes it a step further. Värnhem will be closed on Monday as well and the teachers have to regain control in order to ensure the students safety. A decision is made to hire guards.
Wednesday, 11 January 2017. Two of the security guards on Värnhem press the alarm when a sixteen-year-old and an eighteen-year-old shove them, threaten further violence within the school. Police come to the scene. The students resist. The youngest even comes to blows with one of the policemen.
There are about thirty police reports of events occurring on, or just outside of the school from all of last year and up to a few weeks ago. Everything from the theft of e-readers to abuse. On 19 January, a security guard took a stun gun from the seventeen-year-old student who brought it with him to school. After all that, the teachers are now getting a text message on their phones as soon as a fight is observed, telling them to run to the front desk to find out where it is taking place.
Fences, security guards, the aura not of a school, but of a prison. Several of the teachers Expressen talked to seem to think that this is the future of schools in Sweden. Nearby elementary schools also want security guards and surrounding fences to create some kind of security. But it is a fleeting security. Can fences protect against students recreating IS-executions, or the sexual harassment of six-year-old girls inside?
When Expressen reporters are on the school grounds, the principal of Värnhem – whom they interviewed the day before – stops and asks them what they are doing. She doesn’t like reporters hanging around. “It’s not interesting,” she said when Expressen first told her they wanted to do a story on the school. She fears the bad publicity.
The reason? In 2015, Värnhem received an award for taking in the highest number of newly arrived pupils in all of Malmö. The school’s problems, to an important degree, stem from allowing too many immigrant pupils in, in too short a time and not having the money, or the forethought, of arranging for the extra problems these new pupils bring.
“What are you reading,” one of the uniformed guards at the gate asks a student inside the school who hasn’t been able to get through the high revolving door gate with electronic lock. The student, card in hand, does not seem to speak Swedish and has difficulties making herself understood. “Swedish? What Language do you speak?” the guard tries again: “are you sure you entered through this gate?” It turns out she had gone in and out a few minutes before. To ensure students aren’t able to let in unauthorised people, it takes a few minutes before her card can activate the gate again. She will just have to wait.