An excavator parked next to a two-story building and glints of yellow dust hang in the area of Beijing’s Changping District. “Demolish” notices are festooned on numerous buildings outside the district’s Dongsanqi Village including those of Zhiquan School.

According to a report by Chinese-language Caixin, the school of approximately 500 students will be completely demolished by the end of July. School principal Qin Xujie says that other schools in the area face a similar fate.

The school is one of more than 100 privately established schools that provide basic education for the children of Beijing’s migrant worker population (打工子弟學校). Strict residency (hukou, 戶口) laws make it difficult for migrant dependents to be enrolled in public municipal schools.

In recent years, migrant schools have been the target of closures as the capital’s sprawl expands outwards. As of 2016, more than 65,000 students are schooled in migrant schools in the city, down from close to 100,000 in 2014.

At neighboring Zhenxing School, Principal Wang Chenguo says that the village cut power and water to the school in April, with school officials scrambling to procure water elsewhere in order to keep the grounds running for its 700 students until summer break began in June. The school has been operating legally in the area for over ten years.

While village officials have already begun to discuss where Zhenxing will be relocated, Qin says that officials have yet to contact the school, preferring to communicate with the owner of the school grounds.

'Urban easing' plan

“We’re not just demolishing, we’re demolishing illegal structures,” says village party secretary Zhang Liming. Demolition is part of the capital’s restructuring plans of “urban easing and consolidation to promote upgrading” that were decreed in early 2017.

They include demolition of illegal construction estimated at 40 million square meters, consolidating the administration of the urban-rural areas and increasing “green areas.”

Dongshanqi has 2,000 residents, but a population of non-resident migrants of 50,000. In 2010, the village, located 10 kilometers from Beijing was designated one of 50 that were unsanitary and unsafe requiring restructuring. Zhang says that the work will make the village part of the city’s green reserve.

According to municipal statistics cited in the report, 2.17 million square meters of illegal structures had already been demolished in Changping as of late May.

Where will the students go?

Of the four migrant schools marked for demolition, only two have found new areas to resettle, but even there uncertainty remains. Principle Wang of Zhenxing School says that while the village provided assistance to relocate its grounds, construction work was halted suddenly when officials said that the school did not have the necessary permits.

“When the next term starts, where are these kids going to class?” Wang says.

For Qin, who is scrambling to find not only the school’s next location but also housing for its students and staff, uncertainty hangs in the air, but not for the first time.

Since it was established in 2000, Zhiquan School has been demolished and forced to relocate three times: first when the city began a major facelift before hosting the Olympics in 2008, and more recently in 2014. The school’s enrollment has dropped by two-thirds after its most recent relocation to Dongsanqi.

“There is no stable school environment for the children, and their parents are also confronted with this uncertainty,” he adds. “Even if you put in all the effort to be responsible for them, the anxiety they feel isn’t something you can take away.”

Editor: Edward White