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School fairs canned over French terror threat

Headteachers at schools across France are cancelling traditional summer fairs because they don't have the manpower to search parents' bags - one of the requirements demanded due to the increased terror threat in the country.

School fairs canned over French terror threat
Children in the schoolyard. Photo: AFP
Ever since Paris was hit by a terror attack in January, security across the capital – and indeed much of the country – has been enforced in an effort to prevent a repeat.
 
But there are downsides to the operation, known in France as Vigipirate, which has seen soldiers and police standing guard at sensitive sites across the country, including schools. 
 
For one thing, it's seen a drastic reduction in school outings, trips, or parties over the last six months as school heads have had to alert authorities ahead of time.
 
The latest drawback is that some schools have been cancelling their traditional summer fairs, known as kermesses, where families gather to celebrate the summer holidays with their children and their teachers.
 
The head of one public elementary school in the 11th arrondissement of Paris is among those to put her foot down.
 
“I simply don't have the human resources to spend all day searching through the bags of every person's relatives,” she told French newspaper Le Figaro
 
“I refuse to take responsibility for any incident.”
 
The paper reported that similar incidents were being reported in areas including Vincennes, Saint-Mande, Meudon, and Roissy-en-Brie.
 
Not every school has clamped down, however, with some opting to make the event a public outing rather than one officially connected to the school. Teaching unions have noted that there are yet to be any “mass cancellations”.
 
Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has spoken out in defence of the fairs, saying that schools need only to “be vigilant and to make sure safety rules are respected”.
 
She added the traditional fairs should be cherished, as they're an important opportunity to strengthen ties between families and schools. 
 
“We are working with the schools to make sure to make sure conditions of safety are adhered to,” she 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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