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Cameroon Students Stranded as Government Seals Schools

FILE - A Catholic primary school holds classes in Tchere, Cameroon, April 5, 2014.

FILE - A Catholic primary school holds classes in Tchere, Cameroon, April 5, 2014.

Thousands of Cameroon students and their teachers are returning from holiday to find their schools have been sealed. The government says more than 300 schools have been closed because they are operating without authorization.

One parent, Ayansi Gloria, says she already has paid school fees for her two children and she is not sure she’ll get that money back.

Another parent, Neba Ngwa Valentine, says his daughter, who tried to register for the school year that begins September 5, informed him the government ordered the school not to open its doors.

"Learning can never take place in a nasty environment,” Valentine said. “Those same schools do not afford toilets, they do not have water. … To me it is unacceptable."

Akwanga Theophilus, an adviser to the Presbyterian Education Authority Teachers Trade Union, says missionary-owned schools — generally believed to be of better quality — have also been sealed.

He accuses Cameroon's government of not following the procedures for establishing schools.

"You see that there is something fundamentally wrong,” Theophilus said. “Documents normally are supposed to have been prepared and forwarded to the ministry for formal authorization for the creation and opening to be granted. But the law, again, says that if you have deposited these documents and waited for 30 days, [with] no reaction from the government, that silence is consent that you should go ahead."

The government of Cameroon is asking school proprietors to provide basic needs like running water, toilets and playgrounds.

Cameroon Ministry of Secondary Education Secretary General Leke Tambo says some schools may reopen if certain conditions are met. In addition, he says, the government has asked the schools to refund fees to parents.

This is not the first time Cameroon has closed schools for operating illegally or without the necessary documents. In 2013, 750 schools were closed.

However, the Teachers Trade Union of Cameroon said the schools ignored that order and continued functioning under the protection of corrupt education officials.