Public consultation carried out by the Education Department of the Municipality of Mogi das Cruzes, a municipality in the interior of São Paulo (Brazil), between January and February 2021, on the return of face-to-face classes in schools - which were suspended due to the Invid-19 pandemic .
This case study analyzes a public consultation carried out by the Education Department of the Municipality of Mogi das Cruzes, a municipality in the interior of São Paulo (Brazil), between January and February 2021. The new management of the Municipality, sworn in on January 1, 2021 , consulted the population about the return of face-to-face classes in schools - which had been suspended since March 2020. The information presented here was collected on the Mogi das Cruzes City Hall website and in a semi-structured interview carried out with the then acting secretary of Education , in April 2021.
problems and purposes
The covid-19 pandemic has established an unprecedented scenario globally. In Brazil, the absence of federal coordination on measures to combat the pandemic meant that subnational governments had to take the lead in important decisions. A determination by the Federal Supreme Court (STF), in April 2020, granted autonomy to governors and mayors to institute measures against the pandemic, such as rules for isolation and quarantine, restriction of transport and circulation on highways. Decisions about closing and reopening schools fall into this category.
In the state of São Paulo, the State Government established the São Paulo Plan, which defined criteria and schedules for the closing and reopening of different sectors - schools being one of them. However, the plan indicated these phases as suggestions for reopening, with autonomy for each municipality to deliberate on the return of municipal and private schools in its territory.
Faced with the difficulty of making this decision, which involved educational, social, economic and health aspects, and whose consequences could be unpopular for the management, the Department of Education of the Municipality of Mogi das Cruzes decided to open a public consultation to understand the perception of the population about reopening schools. In addition, the consultation identified which measures were considered essential by citizens to guarantee health security.
City Hall had concerns about the repercussions that the reopening of schools could have on citizens. Thus, the public consultation was designed for the diagnosis but also as a strategy of the City Hall to create public trust.
History and organizing entities
With the determination of the first measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, face-to-face school activities were suspended in Mogi das Cruzes in March 2020. In July 2020, the Municipality of Mogi das Cruzes carried out a public consultation and identified that more than 90% of the participants were against the face-to-face return of this sector.
Based on this diagnosis, City Hall focused on improving remote teaching and guaranteeing the delivery of materials and school meals, and on the other hand, it did not prioritize repairing schools for an eventual face-to-face return. In 2021, the new management that took over the City Hall had a favorable opinion of the return of school activities in person, even before there was a vaccine for everyone involved, and they wanted to start the process of adapting schools. Therefore, they carried out a public consultation to assess whether the population's perception had changed, and to seek a basis for initiating the adequacy of schools to receive students.
At first, there was resistance from some City Hall actors, who feared that the consultation would not be engaged, or that the opinion of the population would remain mostly against the face-to-face return - and, with that, a political climate would be established that would prevent the the City Hall could start the actions already planned for the face-to-face return, especially the aforementioned process of adapting the schools.
After convincing actors such as the mayor's office, the mayor and the deputy mayor, the Department of Education started the process of elaborating and implementing the public consultation, still in the first month of the administration.
Selection of participants and tools used
The method for selecting participants for the public consultation was open, which means that any citizen of the municipality could participate. However, the dissemination was focused on people from the school community, such as parents and guardians of students, teachers and other education professionals. In the questionnaire, there were questions to identify the participant's profile, according to these categories.
In addition, the participants were identified according to the neighborhood in which they lived and the educational cycle to which they were connected, as members of the school community (Early Childhood Education, Elementary School or High School). The objective of having this information about the participants was to enable analyzes on the degree of interest in the return of face-to-face activities to be analyzed according to each profile.
the conPublic sulta was carried out exclusively digitally, in a form available on the website of the Municipal Department of Education and in an application developed by them. The disclosure was made through the social networks of the Municipal Secretary of Education and the mayor, as well as news in the press. Participants had to inform the CPF to participate, so the Secretariat could guarantee that there would be no more than one response per person.
What happened: process, interaction and participation
The public consultation was available for a period of one week. It was a digital questionnaire that each participant answered individually. Public consultations normally follow this model, in which there is no interaction between participants - sometimes conflicting with the premises of deliberative theory. However, they configure a valid mechanism for social participation.
This consultation did not have a decision-making character - the participation of citizens would be considered in the decision of the public power. Therefore, it fulfilled the function of diagnosing the problem and the possibilities of solution, in addition to serving as a de facto consultative method for the government.
Influence, results and effects
During the public consultation period, more than 20,000 people participated. The result was balanced, and the Secretariat identified different perceptions in each neighborhood and in each cycle of education. The results allowed us to understand that there was a greater desire for face-to-face return to high school activities, and this proportion was decreasing until it reached daycare centers, where more than half of the families were still against face-to-face return. The reading carried out by the Secretary of Education is that this happened because there was a greater concern with the children's ability to maintain social distance and the use of masks.
The results of the public consultation were consolidated in a decision-making panel, for use by the public authorities, and in two reports, one internal and the other external. The external report, which was delivered to citizens, highlighted the distribution of answers in each question, with their percentages, and the base of results was kept confidential to comply with the General Data Protection Law (LGPD). The internal report, on the other hand, includes, in addition to this information, a highlight on how the public consultation process opened the possibility for increasing the population's confidence in the decisions taken by public managers.
The Secretary of Education already had the objective of using the contributions to support the plan to resume face-to-face activities, and this was done. Even though they did not obtain a significant majority in favor of face-to-face return, the data indicated a greater openness than that identified in the public consultation carried out by the previous administration in 2020, and it was possible to plan a safe return, with the adhesion of the population.
In terms of government action, City Hall did not reopen schools immediately after this consultation because, according to the then Secretary of Education, the timing of the pandemic did not allow it. In fact, the first months of 2021 were marked by the most lethal phase of the pandemic in Brazil. However, the indication that the population wanted a face-to-face return to the schools made the management organize itself to adapt the schools and establish the resumption plan, which was implemented as soon as allowed according to the epidemiological indicators and the São Paulo Plan. Paul.
Analysis and lessons learned
The Secretary of Education says that the main lesson learned was that it is possible to carry out a broad process of participation by the population to support a decision-making process by the public authorities. However, the secretary points out that it became evident that there is a population that the City Hall cannot reach, especially through digital initiatives that intend to be carried out so quickly.
Although digital tools have made public consultation possible at a time of social distancing, it is important to highlight that the digital divide, which concerns people who do not have easy access to the Internet, was identified by the secretary as a critical factor that must be corrected. in future actions by the Municipality. According to the ICT Households 2020 survey, the Brazilian population with access to the Internet is 81%, but only 37% used digital public services in 2020. Exclusively digital processes are not only inaccessible to a considerable part of the population, but can also contribute for the social and political exclusion of these groups.
First version 07/13/2022 by Luiza Brunetti Silva Jardim