Nine days ago, a fatal fire broke out at a makeshift school in Khuzestan province. Two students died as a consequence, but government officials have yet to release the exact details of the incident or how it came about.
On the evening of Wednesday, January 27, Ali Abdollahi Shahabadi, the governor of Sardasht district in Dezful, announced that Amin Eliassy, a 15-year-old student at the school in Kangarestan village, had died at Taleghani Hospital as a result of injuries he sustained during the devastating blaze on January 19.
It followed the announcement of the death of Nima Hemmati Chalgard, also 15, from severe burns at the same hospital on Monday, January 25.
Government officials from the Ministry of Education and local authorities have made contradictory statements about the incident since it took place. Omid Ben-Abbas, director-general of Khuzestan Crisis Management, initially said only a handful of teachers had been injured in the fire and “no students suffered burns”.
But Peyman Nejati, director of Ahwaz's Taleghani Hospital, later said that at least "three students and three teachers" had suffered from serious burns. The head of education in Sardasht, Farhad Dinarani, also said there were six injured in the incident but “their general condition is good."
The cause of the fire has similarly been subject to speculation. Education officials initially claimed the school had been struck by lightning, but the Sardasht district governor was quick to respond: "According to experts, the cause of the fire was not lightning."
Education department officials now say that the fire was caused by a gas canister inside the makeshift building catching alight. But the details remain unclear.
Locals’ Anger at Hazy Official Response
The families of the victims, local residents and opponents of the government have widely criticized the incident. Several people demanded to know why the Minister of Education, Mohsen Hajir Mirzaei, who was in the province at the time of the fire to inaugurate several new projects in Khuzestan, had refused to go to the hospital and visit the injured.
Families have also expressed their anger at the ambiguities and contradictions in the official response so far, as well as the lack of support. Hossein Rezaei Mirghaed, a teacher at the school who suffered 80 percent burns in the incident, has been taken to a hospital in Isfahan. His brother, Bahram Rezaei Mirghaed, told Hamshahri newspaper that his family had asked the education authorities to transfer him to Tehran "but they did not cooperate with us and so we had to bring him to Isfahan".
According to local media, all three teachers who were seriously hurt were contractual employees and uninsured. Hossein Rezaei Mirghaed has two children aged five and six months.
What is a Makeshift School?
Many ordinary, established schools in Iran have serious structural problems. But in some parts of the country they have not even been fully built, and rudimentary classrooms are instead created in tents and cobbled-together shelters.
Four years ago, Morteza Ra'isi, then-head of the country's School Renovation, Development and Equipment Organization, declared that there were 700 “brick and stone” classrooms in the country, declaring these sites to be "not compatible with the dignity of the Islamic Republic". “By the end of next year,” he went on, “we will have said goodbye to these for ever."
But the problem persists, and these informal classrooms still exist in different parts of Iran. Makeshift schools are halfway-houses between these basic structures and purpose-built schools, where the government has begun the conversion process but not yet completed it. According to Mehrollah Rakhshani-Mehr, head of the Schools Renovation, Development, and Equipment Organization, there are currently 4,000 such makeshift schools in the country.