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

School representatives say the government's coronavirus health protocol for safe reopening of schools in September is outdated and needs to be reinforced.

French unions call for stricter Covid-19 health rules in schools
French children return to school on September 1st. Photo: AFP

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.

IN NUMBERS: How worried should we be about the rise of Covid-19 cases in France?

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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French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

After the seismic decision of the US Supreme Court on Friday, French MPs are calling for the right to abortion in France to be protected by the constitution.

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

Lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party are to propose a parliamentary bill on Saturday that would enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution. 

The move comes after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 “Roe v. Wade” decision on Friday.

“In France we guarantee and advance the rights of women. We protect them,” said Aurore Bergé – the head of Renaissance in the Assemblée nationale and one of the key sponsors of the bill. 

Another co-sponsor, Marie-Pierre Rixain tweeted: “What happens in elsewhere cannot happen in France. We must protect the right to abortion for future generations. 

In 2018 and 2019, Emmanuel Macron’s party – which back then was known as La République en Marche – refused to back bills proposed by left-wing party, La France Insoumise, to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution. 

In a Saturday interview with France Inter, Bergé suggested that the success of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National during parliamentary elections earlier this month had created a sense of newfound urgency. 

She described the far-right MPs as “fierce opponents of women’s access to abortion” and said it was important “to take no risk” in securing it. 

READ MORE France’s Macron condemns US abortion ruling

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has come out in support of the bill. 

The left-wing opposition block, NUPES, also backs it and had planned to propose an identical piece legislation of its own on Monday. 

Macron is seeking parliamentary allies to pass reforms after his formation lost its majority in legislative elections earlier this month.

The legal timeframe to terminate a pregnancy in France was extended from 12 to 14 weeks in the last legislature.

Changing the constitution requires the National Assembly and Senate to adopt the same text, then a three-fifths majority of parliament sitting in congress. The other option is a referendum.