Covid-19 outbreaks cause closure of 22 French schools

Just a week into the new school year and 22 French schools have closed because of Covid-19 outbreaks, along with around 100 classes, the education minister confirmed.

Covid-19 outbreaks cause closure of 22 French schools
Masks are mandatory in French schools for over-11s. Photo: AFP

French schools returned from their summer holidays on Tuesday with a strict health protocol in place including masks in the classrooms for over-11s.

READ ALSO These are the health rules in place in French schools


Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. Photo: AFP

But some schools have been forced to close again almost immediately after cases of Covid-19.

Of the schools that have closed, 10 are in the overseas French territory of Réunion – which has been badly hit by the virus – and 12 were in mainland France.

The health protocol states that if possible schools should stay open, but individual classes can be closed if there is a case and around 100 classes have been suspended over the course of the week.

In total there are 60,000 schools in France, so education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer stressed to Europe 1 that this was only affecting a small proportion of schools.

He added: “What is interesting to note is that the suspicions of Covid-19 that may exist are linked to factors external to the school, to people who often may have been infected before the start of the school year.”

The decision on whether to close a school or just suspend a certain class is taken at a local level by the school and local authorities and depends on a range of factors including the number of cases, the level of contact and the layout of the school buildings.

READ ALSO Parental leave and closures: What happens if there is a Covid-19 outbreak at school?

However Blanquer added that having three or more cases would usually trigger the closing of the school.


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French ‘first lady’ backs calls for controversial school uniforms

France's first lady Brigitte Macron says she backs the idea of school uniforms, as the far right is pushing in parliament to make a unified dress code mandatory nationwide.

French 'first lady' backs calls for controversial school uniforms

Uniforms have never been compulsory in all state schools in mainland France, and the education minister is against any such law.

The president’s wife, a 69-year-old former high school drama teacher, said she had worn a uniform at school in an interview with Le Parisien Daily published Wednesday.

“I wore a uniform as a pupil: 15 years of dark blue short skirt, dark blue jumper. And I thought it was fine,” she said, responding to a question from a 14-year-old schoolgirl.

“It erases differences, it saves time. It’s time-consuming to choose what to wear in the morning, and costs money” to buy brands, she added.

“So I’m in favour of school uniforms, but if it’s a simple outfit — and not too drab.”

The topic was one of many covered in the interview conducted by seven members of the public, from sexual harassment and mobile phones in school to spelling and the juice she makes President Emmanuel Macron for breakfast.

Mandatory outfits were first introduced in France for secondary school students under Napoleon, according to historian Claude Lelievre.

Some state schools kept them on until as late as the 1960s, but the practice largely disappeared after the student-led protests of May 1968.

Today, uniforms are only worn in rare cases such as military academies or some private schools.

They are however more common in France’s overseas territories: a third of all state schools in Martinique, for example, require them.

The far-right Rassemblement National, led by Marine Le Pen, included a school uniform bill among seven laws it proposed on Thursday in the National Assembly.

Le Pen has defended a compulsory dress code as a way to “avoid the pressure” of “Islamists”. She also argues it would end “the contest to wear the most expensive, most luxurious, most fashionable clothes”.

Although the bill is expected to receive support from the right-wing Les Républicains, it is thought likely the Assembly will reject it.

The president’s centre-right block Renaissance is divided over the issue, and Education Minister Pap Ndiaye has repeatedly said he is against.

“I don’t want a law on the issue,” he said last week, adding that schools were already free to impose uniforms if they wanted.

The left is also staunchly opposed.

Hard-left La France Insoumise lawmaker Alexis Corbière said on Thursday the real problem was access to a good education, noting that many privileged families sent their children to private schools

“Wearing the same T-shirt and the same short skirt won’t solve the problem,” he said.

Green MP Sandrine Rousseau also argued that uniforms would not reduce inequality in education.

“You just need to massively invest in state schools, correctly pay the teachers,” she wrote on Twitter.