Covid-19: These are the health rules in place in French schools

Covid-19: These are the health rules in place in French schools
Secondary school children prepare to go into class on in Vincennes, east of Paris, on September 1st. Secondary and high schoolers must wear masks at all times when at school. Photo: AFP
French children returned to school on Tuesday, but the return to the classroom is different this autumn, as the government has tightened health rules to curb the rising Covid-19 rates in the country.

Just days before children across the country returned to school on September 1st, the government tightened the health rules in place in a bid to try and prevent the classroom from becoming a place of coronavirus contagion this autumn.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said he wanted to keep the school start “as normal as possible,” despite the rising Covid-19 rates and the anguish over the rapid spread of the virus.

“I wouldn't want this year to be characterised only by the health crisis and protective issues,” Blanquer said during a joint press conference on Thursday together with the prime minister and health minister.

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An updated, stricter version of the public health protocol for schools published in June has been made available on the education ministry's website (link here).

The protocol concerns maternelle (pre- school) écoles (primary schools), collèges (secondary schools) and lycées (high schools).

These are the main points:

Compulsory schooling

When schools first reopened in May it was up to parents whether they chose to send their children back or not, however in September France will revert to the rule of schooling being compulsory for all. People who wish to continue home-schooling must go through the process to become registered with their local authority.

No limits on class-sizes

To facilitate the return en masse for all children, the rule limiting class sizes to small groups has been scrapped.

Schools are however to “organise activities to limit large groupings of people”, for example “limiting as much as possible” the flow of pupils and parents in the arrival and leaving rushes, the plan states.

Masks

Only children above the age of 11 have to wear a face-mask in France. Masks are banned in nurseries, where the government has decided  they would be counterproductive. 

In primary schools masks are not recommended, but there will be masks “available for children presenting symptoms” of Covid-19 “while they wait to leave the school,” according to the plan.

Pupils in secondary schools and high schools have to wear masks, both inside the premises and outdoors on the playground, except when “eating,” “exercising,” or engaging in other activities that are “incompatible” with wearing a mask.

It is up to parents to provide their children with masks, although the government will provide all schools with stocks to give out to pupils lacking one.

Pupils will have to wear masks both inside and outside the classroom. Photo: AFP

Teachers will have to wear a mask at all times, except when they do something considered “incompatible” with wearing a mask.

Teachers will have to keep the mask on when lecturing, contrary to the previous version of the plan where masks were compulsory only when a 1 metre distance with the pupils could not be maintained.

Teachers in maternelles (nurseries) will no longer be exempt from this rule and will have to keep their masks on during lessons.

READ ALSO: The essential language to understand the French school system

Social distancing 

When the youngest children returned to school mid-May, some parents posted pictures of them awkwardly placed in carefully spaced out areas to ensure a minimum one metre distance between each child.

 

The one metre-rule has been relaxed in the new plan, both inside the classroom and out on the playground.

Keeping a one metre-distance inside the school is recommended, however the rule is no longer compulsory when “it is not physically possible or if it means all pupils cannot be received,” according to the plan.

Teachers are to organise the classrooms so that “as much distance as possible” is kept between the pupils.”

Outside, “social distancing no longer applies,” although the secondary and high school pupils must wear a mask.

READ ALSO The stationary items children need for school in France 

Health rules

All children and personnel are to:

  • Wash their hands “very regularly” 
  • Cough or sneeze into their elbow or in a paper tissue
  • Use one-time tissues and throw them away after usage
  • Saying hi and bye without shaking hands or embracing

There are also additional rules on hand washing. All children and personnel must wash their hands when:

  • They enter the school premises
  • Before every meal
  • Before and after every break
  • After going to the bathroom
  • Before leaving the school or upon arrival at home
  • The washing must last “at least 30 seconds” and use a paper towel to dry them after or let them air dry (regular shared towels are prohibited)

Disinfecting establishments and material

Pupils will be given free access to playgrounds, balls, toys, books, pens and other school items.

While the plan does not set any fixed rules on how to clean these, it states that all school administrations must establish plans to instruct pupils, parents and teachers on how to best behave to limit the spread of the virus.

Schools must also regularly clean frequent contact-points such as door-knobs. Dining hall tables must be disinfected after each meal and  all large surfaces are to be cleaned “at least once a day.”

Airing of premises

All classrooms and school establishments must be aired “as often as possible and for a duration of at least 15 minutes each time”.

'Fever-ban'

Parents have to “commit to not sending a child to class if they have a fever (38C or more) or in the event of Covid-19 symptoms at home or inside the family,” the plan states. 

In the event of a positive Covid-19 test in the home, or if someone in the family has been identified as having been in contact with someone having the virus, the family must keep the child at home and alert the school principle.

A communication plan

Schools are to ensure a close link between parents and the establishment and send out regular and detailed information forms to keep pupils and parents up-to-date on the situation in their establishment.
 
Parents are to be informed in detail about a range questions concerning everything from their own role in ensuring that their child respects the health rules in place, to the school's capability of keeping with the set rules, to how to best organise themselves when picking up their child to avoid crowds outside the school gate.
 
In case of coronavirus..
 
“There will be cases of coronavirus in schools, and we will handle them,” said President Jean-François Delfraissy of the Scientific Council set up specifically to advice the government on their coronavirus policies, in an interview with France Inter on August 24th.

France had to prepare for a scenario where schools can become coronavirus clusters, “even classes of clusters,” Delfraissy said.
 
While the government has not given details on how such outbreaks will be handled, they have said actions will be taken on a case by case basis, opening for complete closures of schools if needed.
 
“You could see schools close from one day to the next,” the education minister told France Inter on August 27th.
 
 

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