IN PICTURES: French children return to school with masks

Pupils across France are now back at school under strict hygiene conditions which for many include wearing masks in the classroom.

IN PICTURES: French children return to school with masks
All photos: AFP

France's Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said he wanted to keep the school on September 1st start “as normal as possible,” despite the rapidly rising Covid-19 rates in the country, but for many reasons the start of this school year looks very different.

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

To facilitate the return en masse for all children, the rule limiting class sizes to small groups has been scrapped. Schools are however asked to “organise activities to limit large groupings of people”.

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

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

Keeping a one metre-distance inside the school is recommended, however the rule is no longer compulsory and teachers are to organise the classrooms so that “as much distance as possible” is kept between the pupils, according to the updated version of the public health protocol for schools.

All children and staff are asked to wash their hands regularly, cough or sneeze into their elbow or in a paper tissue, use single-use tissues and throw them away after usage as well as to say hi and bye without shaking hands or kissing.

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


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Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules

Around three-quarters of French teachers plan to go on strike onThursday to protest the government's shifting rules on Covid testing for students, forcing the closure of half the country's primary schools, a union said Tuesday.

Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules
Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

The strike led by the Snuipp-FSU union, the largest among primary school teachers, comes after the latest of several changes on testing and isolation requirements for potential Covid cases announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex late Monday.

After seeing long lines of parents outside pharmacies and labs in recent days to test children in classes where a case was detected, Castex said home tests could now be used to determine if a student could return to school.

But teachers say class disruptions have become unmanageable with the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

“Students cannot learn properly because attendance varies wildly, and a hybrid of in-house and distance learning is impossible to put in place,” the Snuipp-FSU said, adding that absent teachers are not being replaced.

It is also demanding the government provide facemasks for staff, including the more protective FFP2 masks, and CO2 monitors to check if classrooms are sufficiently ventilated.

“Not only does the current protocol not protect students, staff or their families, it has completely disorganised schools,” the union said, claiming that classes have effectively been turned into “daycare centres.”

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has said the government is doing everything possible to avoid outright school closures that could cause havoc for parents and jeopardise learning for thousands, especially those in low-income families.

“I know there is a lot of fatigue, of anxiety… but you don’t go on strike against a virus,” Blanquer told BFM television on Tuesday.

As of Monday some 10,000 classes had been shut nationwide because of Covid cases, representing around two percent of all primary school classes, Blanquer said.