Councilors on Friday decided to close two schools in Lääneranna Municipality in Pärnu County and downsize three others despite protests from residents and pupils. Several parents plan to challenge the decision in court.
The council voted 13 votes to eight in favor of the measures at a session this afternoon.
Lõpe and Metsküla schools will close, grades 7-9 will be abolished at Koonga and Varbla schools, and Virtsu School, originally slated for closure, will be converted into a four-grade elementary school in September.
Councillor Ingvar Saare said the municipality "does not have the capacity" to maintain its current education network.
Local residents, parents, and children held a protest in front of Lihula Municipal Hall before the meeting. More than 1,000 signatures were collected in support of Virtsu School and similar initiatives were created for the other schools.
One supporter of Virtsu School, Krista Kampus, said the demographic impact of closing the school has not been taken into account.
Council chairman Armand Reinmaa said the new coalition should discuss the situation of school closures in rural areas and all parties need to tackle the issue.
He pushed back on criticism that the council had not listened to local communities. "We have done that, we have asked the board of trustees for their opinion," Reinmaa said.
He said Varbla School was built to accommodate 150 children but today approximately only 50 attend. The situation is similar elsewhere in the region, he Reinmaa.
Parents at Metsküla and Lõpe schools believe children should have the opportunity to study close to home.
Twenty-one children attend Metsküla School and this number is forecast to rise to more than 30 in the coming years, parents said at the meeting on Friday.
Parents said the local school was a deciding factor in why they moved to the area. They may move away if it closes.
Ingvar Saare said residents could run the facility itself as a private school.
"If the community is prepared to run this school itself, we will propose that the council should cover the place fees," he said.
Armand Reinmaa said the council will save somewhere between €250,000 to €300,000 by closing or downsizing the schools.
Editor: Karin Koppel, Juhan Hepner, Merili Nael, Helen Wright