French unions call for stricter Covid-19 health rules in schools

French unions call for stricter Covid-19 health rules in schools
French children return to school on September 1st. Photo: AFP
School representatives say the government's coronavirus health protocol for safe reopening of schools in September is outdated and needs to be reinforced.

As French schools prepare a return to the classroom in two weeks, unions ask the government to make stricter the current health plan in place to prevent Covid-19 from spreading inside their establishments.

“The rules date from a time.. when we thought we would certainly be able to return back in a more normal way,” Sophie Vénétitay, teacher and Snes-FSU union representative, told France Info.

The plan was published in July, before France saw a surge in the number of new coronavirus cases.

Since then, daily tallies have tripled. The national health agency last week recorded more than 3,000 new cases several days in a row, numbers unseen since the nationwide lockdown this spring.

“It is therefore necessary to strengthen health rules so that everyone can return to school safely and .. we avoid closing schools in a longer perspective,” Vénétitay said.

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Masks in the classroom
Unions were not the only ones to worry about the current measures in place to counter a coronavirus resurgence as France returns to school and work in September.
In a tribune published in Libération, a doctor's collective recommend the government to introduce mandatory mask-wearing in all enclosed spaces, including classrooms.
Currently, masks are only compulsory for pupils in secondary schools and high schools, both inside the premises and outdoors on the playground.
However the government has given schools leeway by stating that masks are important “especially when moving (between classrooms) and when a distance of one metre cannot be guaranteed,” for example when the children are placed “face to face or side by side.”
'Too late'
The education ministry has said they favour a localised approach with rules adapted to the situation in each area. Any changes to the current plan will be  presented on August 26th, when Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer will hold a press conference.
Unions said this was too late.
“We cannot wait until a couple of days before the return to school to change what is being planned,” Stéphane Crochet, from the teacher's union Unsa, told France Info.
“We must know right now if we continue like planned or if we have to modify how we organise things,” he said.

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