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SCHOOL

Photo of French pupils draws ‘racist’ backlash

The French government has firmly rebuked scores of 'racist' comments left on an education ministry Facebook post which shows a back-to-school scene with mostly non-white children. The image has elicited a furious online debate.

Photo of French pupils draws 'racist' backlash
An Education Ministry photo has prompted an online controversy in France, because only one kid is white. Photo: Sophie Brändström/Education Ministry

It’s a seemingly innocent enough photo: eight healthy, well-dressed and cute kids stand in a row at school in a Facebook posting with information for parents anxious over the start of the new school year.

But the image, which shows a majority of black children and one clearly visible white child sparked a flood of racist comments – as well as an avalanche of anti-racist responses.

The tone of many of the 1,000-plus comments – not including those deleted by the government – became so harsh the Ministry of Education stepped in and denounced the “abusive and racist” character of some threads.

“This page is a place of positive and constructive dialogue about school and is not a political forum,” the ministry said.

Among the mountain of comments that have accumulated in the post since it went up on Thursday were those from Facebook user Mike Plusultra who tapped into the fear that France is being overrun by immigrants. 

“I don’t think this photo is very representative of French schools: What the heck is the white kid still doing there? Oh, I just heard he’s from Kosovo. The future of France, the replacement of the population is well underway,” he said.

Scores of users pounced on the photo to echo similar views that France is being destroyed by foreigners, but also by its Socialist government. Commentor Serge Bogaerts said: "There is nothing racist and hurtful about making note of the anti-French racism that this photo represents and the hate of this government toward France and its people."

Yet there was an equally ferocious response from people shocked and disgusted by the tenor of the anti-diversity comments. Commentor Rachel Termoz-Masson was afraid by what she believes the debate says about France.

“France is scary these days, no no, not the photo, but these scandalous comments from disrespectful, intolerant and ugly adults. These kids are so cute and that’s it!”

Facebook user Petit Fripon seconded that view.

"Beautiful photo. These kids are cute and a child is first and foremost a child, no matter his skin color, otherwise it's just racism. And to those shocked by the photo, black children go to the schools of our republic, even if it bothers you," he said.

Globalization and immigration have lead to France being home to an increasingly multi-cultural society, but it has not been without friction.

France has seen a rise of the anti-immigrant far-right as its economy has declined, while over the years governments has grappled with how to integrate large, immigrant-based communities.

In April this year an annual study, seen as a barometer on levels of intolerance and xenophobia in the country, revealed that one in three admitted they held racist views.

The report made for sober reading, with levels of intolerance apparently on the rise for the fourth year running and the number of French people concerned by immigration (16 percent) at the highest level since 2002.

And according to the BVA poll which the report is based on as many as 35 percent of French people admit to being “quite” or “a little” racist. 

The poll was published in the week after the anti-immigration National Front (FN) party secured historic results in the local elections, picking up a record 11 towns.

“The commission’s report is presents figures that are very worrying for French society,” wrote Louis-Georges Tin, president of CRAN (Representative Council of Black Associations) for the Nouvel Obs website.

Tin said the most worrying stat from the report was the fact that six out ten French people said “certain behaviour can sometimes justify racist reactions”, which he says “makes racist opinions excusable”.

He also said the rise in intolerance was linked to that of the National Front, although racism in France was not limited to the far right he said.

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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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