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Police finish DNA sweep in hunt for school rapist

All 527 male students and staff at a private school in France have turned over their DNA as part of an unprecedented hunt for whoever raped a girl in a campus bathroom. One student who'd refused relented under prosecutors' pressure.

Police finish DNA sweep in hunt for school rapist
Police have finished an unprecedented DNA collection in the hunt for a rapist. Photo: Xavier Leoty/AFP

Police on Thursday completed an unprecedented collection of DNA samples from hundreds of male students and staff at a French school where a girl was raped last year.

The one student who had refused to take part "for philosophical reasons," relented on Thursday after being warned by the prosecutor leading the investigation that he would be putting himself in a difficult position if he maintained his stance.

"As he was the only one to refuse, we made him understand that he could be seen by his fellow students as having something to hide," said La Rochelle prosecutor Isabelle Pagenelle.

Samples were taken from a total of 527 students and staff private Catholic high school Fénélon-Notre-Dame in La Rochelle who were on site when the girl was raped in a school toilet where the lights had been turned off.

As she was unable to see her attacker, investigators have had little to go on other than a male DNA trace recovered from her clothing.

Nine people who have left the school since the incident on September 30, 2013 still have to be tracked down and tested, Pagenelle said.

The samples will now be sent to a laboratory in Lyon for testing and, unless one of them proves to be a match, they will all be destroyed after analyses are completed.

School director Isabelle Deveaux congratulated the students on their cooperation with police. "We are lucky to have very mature pupils," she said.

"Many parents have expressed their support for what we are doing."

Parents had to give their consent for the DNA samples to be taken from their children via saliva swabs.

The operation has attracted huge media interest in France and some lawyers have suggested the prosecutor's approach could set a dangerous precedent in terms of civil liberties.

A number of commentators have also questioned whether the investigation might have made faster progress if the school had not hushed up the rape.

Students only became aware it had happened when the DNA tests were announced last week.

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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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