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RAPE

Mass DNA tests of school boys to find toilet rapist

French police trying to track down a rapist who attacked a schoolgirl in a dark toilet will start taking DNA samples on Monday from 500 male pupils and staff at a Catholic school in western France in a bid to identify the culprit.

Mass DNA tests of school boys to find toilet rapist
Around 500 pupils and staff from a French school will undergo DNA testing in bid to find a rapist. Photo: Shutterstock

More than 500 male students and staff at a French school will undergo DNA tests from on Monday in a bid to discover who raped a 16-year-old girl in a dark school toilet.

The tests, a first in a French school, will end on Wednesday and target 475 high school students, 31 teachers and 21 others present on the premises on September 30 when the rape happened.

The schoolgirl was assaulted in the private Catholic Fenelon-Notre-Dame high school in the southwestern Atlantic port city of La Rochelle.

The attack took place after the light from an automatic time switch went off and she therefore could not give the physical details of her attacker.

There are a total of 1,200 students in the school.

The arrival of 16 officers at the school on Monday has naturally affected the atmosphere among the pupils.

“It remains tense, because this is the first time we have to do DNA tests, so it seems quite unique to us,” one pupil told Europe1 radio. “It’s disturbing to have to do the test, It’s bizarre.”

Others talked about the fear of finding out who the attacker was.

"We want to know [who it is], but deep down, we don't, because what if it is a very close friend?" one schoolgirl told Europe1. "We would not be able to live with that. It is monstrous what he did to this girl, it's horrible."

The cost of the operation will be around €5,000 ($6,940) and saliva swabs will be taken and matched with DNA found on the girl's clothes.

DNA from her clothes had tested negatively when matched with those of her family and close friends. The results are due out in a month.

Isabelle Pagenelle, the prosecutor of La Rochelle, said both parental and individual authorisation was necessary for minors undertaking the test.

She said there would be no forced DNA testing but added that "those saying no can become potential suspects who may be detained." Authorities said samples that do not match the DNA found on the victim will be destroyed.

Results not connected with the rape will be destroyed, Pagenelle said, adding that the tests were necessary to prevent further assaults and make the school safer.

The school's principal Chantal Devaux said the rape had hitherto remained a secret and only investigators were in the loop.

The samples will be drawn using a swab under the tongue and the results of the tests are due in several months.
  
Prosecutors said they had decided to go ahead with the mass DNA tests after several months of investigation proved fruitless.

But some have condemned the move as a clear violation of civil rights.

"Refusing to give a DNA sample when not in custody is a right," prominent defence lawyer Joseph Cohen-Sabban told newspaper Le Figaro.

"It's ludicrous! They want to decide on taking someone into custody based on that person exercising their rights," he said. "Then, once in custody, it's against the law to refuse to give a DNA sample… This is a truly unacceptable abuse of process."

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EDUCATION

School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents

The number of school and class closures in France has increased, the education minister reported on Wednesday, but the government has relaxed the rules for parents sending children back to class.

School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents
Children over 11 in France have to wear masks during the school day. Photo: AFP

A total of 81 establishments and 2,100 individual classes have closed after discovering Covid-19 cases on their premises.

The number was a rise on the figures last week when 28 schools and 524 individual classes were closed.

“We have around 1,200 new Covid cases among pupils compared with last week,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told the LCI channel on Wednesday.

“We shut down a class as soon as there are three cases,” he said.

Blanquer noted that the closures represent just a small fraction of the 60,000 schools across France, calling the beginning of the new school year “the best possible given the health crisis.”

 

French officials have warned nonetheless that new restrictions might be required to stem a worrying increase in coronavirus cases since August.

IN NUMBERS: How fast are France's Covid-19 rates increasing?

No more official sick notes

Despite the surge in cases registered in schools, children with Covid-19 symptoms will no longer need to provide a doctor's sick note (une attestation) to return to class, Blanquer told BFMTV on Tuesday evening.

Instead, parents will need to fill in what in French is called an attestation sur l'honneur, a written document signed by the parent, stating either that the child tested negative for the virus, or a doctor has ruled out that the child has Covid-19.

READ ALSO: The vocabulary you need to fill in French forms (including the coronavirus 'attestation')

This followed a series of complaints from medical establishments across the country that they were overwhelmed with demands for sick notes and that parents were sending children with very light symptoms such as runny noses to get checked up.

According to the new rules, children who are identified as contact cases must get tested for the virus seven days after their last contact with the confirmed case. If the result comes back negative, the child can go back to class provided that a parent has provided a signed written attestation saying that the test came back negative. No proof for the test result will be required. 

A child with Covid-19 symptoms can also return to class if this attestation indicates that a doctor has ruled out the virus as cause for the symptoms, without providing any proof for the medical appointment.

The new health protocol will be updated and published on the education ministry's website shortly.

READ ALSO: The French school vocab parents need

 
'Chomage partiel'

Parents affected by the school closures can access to the partial unemployment scheme bolstered by the government at the beginning of the lockdown in March to help businesses foot their employees' salaries to prevent mass layoffs.

Those concerned will “benefit from income reimbursement from the first day of their stoppage of work, and at the latest until the end of the period of isolation,” the health ministry said in a statement.

Only one parent per household will be eligible for the help scheme, and only if they can document that their child's school or nursery closed down due to Covid-19, or that their child has been identified as a contact-case.

Higher education 

Late Tuesday, the University of Montpellier in southern France said it had suspended classes at its medical school after some 60 students tested positive after a party.

The University of Rennes in western France also suspended classes for second- and third-year medical students this week after 83 tested positive.

The government has placed 82 of the country's 101 departments on red alert, and officials in Bordeaux and Marseille this week tightened restrictions on public gatherings and retirement home visits after seeing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. 

READ ALSO: Why are Bordeaux and Marseille facing tougher Covid-19 restrictions but not Paris

 
 
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