A somber atmosphere looms over Iranian schools at the start of the academic year, following tragedies that have impacted thousands of pupils last year.
The memory of nearly 70 children who lost their lives during nationwide protests and poisonings at hundreds of schools cast a dark shadow across the country.
Many students faced harrowing ordeals, including abduction, torture and prolonged detention.
For the new academic year, startling changes have swept through several girls' schools, where principals, assistants and even school guards have been replaced by members of religious seminaries and the paramilitary Basij force.
Tehran has been particularly affected by these changes.
Between November 30, 2022, and March this year, hundreds of girls’ schools across Iran were targeted by poisoning attacks in what Amnesty International described as “a campaign that appears to be highly coordinated and organized.”
As many as 13,000 pupils reportedly suffered symptoms including nausea, fainting, headaches, coughing, breathing difficulties and heart palpitations, with many requiring treatment in hospital. One female student from Qom was confirmed to have died as a result of these poisonings.
The attacks appear to have targeted girls for their involvement in nationwide protests sparked by the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody.
The source of the attacks remained undisclosed.
The chemical attacks and the suppression of students have raised pressing questions regarding who is responsible for safeguarding the lives and well-being of children and teenagers.
"There were no poisonings or chemical attacks. It was only stress experienced by the students," the public relations department of the Ministry of Education told IranWire in response to a question about the safety of school children in the new school year.
When asked to talk about this issue, the General Department of Education in Tehran suggested IranWire to contact the Ministry of Education.
Inquiries sent to some of the schools targeted by chemical attacks led to similar answers.
Zohreh, the mother of a student in District 4 of Tehran, expressed her concerns.
"This year, prior to the start of the school year, the school administrators addressed families about the previous year's events. They did not, however, discuss any security measures for the schools," she said.
"Instead, their primary concern was related to the students' finances; they requested financial assistance from parents," she added.
Tara, the mother of a 5th-grade school student in District 6, recounted that on the first day of school, the majority of students from 4th to 6th grades arrived without headscarves.
A police officer in uniform was stationed at the main entrance of the school from 7:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., but “he did not engage with anyone and did not address concerns regarding hijab," the mother said.
She also noticed that a new principal, deputy and janitorial staff affiliated with seminaries or the Basij had been appointed.
Another mother, Maryam, spoke of her daughter's experience.
"Last year, my daughter's teacher, a staunch Basiji, frightened many students, constantly threatening them that they would go to hell for dishonesty or wrongdoing," Maryam said.
"The concept of hell deeply disturbed my nine-year-old daughter, and the fear of her own death, as well as that of her family, lingered due to these threats," she explained.
During lessons, her daughter had to listen to teachers talking about “angels of death” lurking around, ready to claim sinners and their parents.
"I had to arrange 20 sessions of psychotherapy with a psychologist to help her regain her emotional balance. Eventually, I transferred her to a different school to escape the extremism of her previous teachers," Maryam said.