France’s schools will reopen as planned after Easter break

France's schools will reopen as planned after the rescheduled Easter break, the government spokesman has confirmed.

France's schools will reopen as planned after Easter break
Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

Schools in France were placed under a three-week closure – one week of distance learning and two weeks of rescheduled Easter holidays – as part of the ‘partial lockdown’ measures brought in at the start of April in an attempt to contain rapidly rising Covid case rates.

Announcing the closure at the start of April, president Emmanuel Macron said that primary schools would return on Monday, April 26th while secondary (collège) and high schools (lycée) would have one more week of distance learning before returning to in-person classes from Monday, May 3rd.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal on Thursday confirmed this timetable.

He said: “The nurseries will reopen and primary school students will return to their classes on April 26th. Collège students and lycée students too, from May 3rd.”

Lycées have the option of giving up to 50 percent of their teaching via distance learning, and it is up to individual institutions to decide how much in-person teaching they do.

Attal added: “For some, the return to class could be done in half-class groups.”

Normally Easter holiday dates vary by region, but the government changed the dates for some areas so that the whole country had the same two weeks of holiday this year.

The French government has always said that closing schools is a last resort and schools remained open during the second lockdown. The government hopes that the three-week closure will be enough to halt the spread of the virus in schools, so that they can remain open until the summer holidays.

Attal added that the number of self-testing kits and the new saliva tests for Covid will be increased for schools as they go back.

All other health precautions such as the compulsory wearing of masks for staff and children over the age of 6 remain in place.

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French launches €14m ‘only yes means yes’ campaign on sexual consent

France's higher education ministry has launched a €14 million campaign around sexual consent, teaching students to seek explicit consent for any sexual encounter under the slogan 'sans oui, c'est interdit' (without a yes, it's forbidden).

French launches €14m 'only yes means yes' campaign on sexual consent

The campaign is hoping to teach students to: “Ask explicitly and look for an enthusiastic yes; Get into the habit of posing simple questions like ‘Do you want to?’ ‘Can I?’ ‘What do you like?’ and ‘What do you want us to experience together?’; Listen to the other person; Respect his or her desires and own limits; and finally, Accept No.”

Other prevention actions for the 2022 school year will include training sessions for dedicated anti-assault units in most of France’s universities. So far, over 900 teachers, students, and staff across the country have been trained. 

Ahead of week-ends d’intégration – or welcome weekends at the start of the school year, which are known for festivities and higher consumption of alcohol amongst the student body – posters with the new slogan “Without a ‘yes,’ it’s off limits” (Sans oui, c’est interdit) appeared across campuses in France to help educate students about consent.

Sylvie Retailleau, the Minister for Higher Education, stressed the importance of such actions in an interview with daily Le Parisien.

The minister explained that about “149,000 students in France are affected by sexual assault or attempted assault” each year. 

According to Retailleau, that number represents approximately four percent of the total student body (for higher education) in France.

With the annual budget doubling from €1.7 to €3.5 million per year, Retailleau intends for associations, such as the “National Association for Student Athletics” (Anestaps) to receive more grant money to help sexual assault prevention.

The consent awareness campaign will also partner with websites like Konbini to reach students online. Informative videos with advice and testimonies from students, as well as a consent quiz (consentest) will be posted across social media to help educate young people across the country.

Additionally, Anestaps will set up “safe spaces” during onboarding festivities and welcome weekends, to ensure that students who have been harassed or feel unsafe have a place to go to and a secure person to speak with.

The organisation will also use the ‘angel shots’ system during school events. Students who feel unsafe can order a fake drink at the bar and trust that the person behind the counter will understand it as code for needing help.

Schools will also set up investigation units, which will be free, confidential, and available to victims. The goal will be to encourage victims to file complaints, as well as to collect testimonies and reports. The units will offer students with legal, medical and psychological assistance.

Despite previous actions by the State to combat sexual assault in France’s universities, the problem has persisted. As a result, in 2021, the Ministry of Higher Education launched the multi-year plan (running until 2025).

The program was given a total budget of €7 million, which has now been doubled to €14 million.

The plan includes 21 measures, several of which were already taken up this past year. The steps are structured around four primary areas: widespread training of staff and students to respond to sexual assault, the reinforcement of reporting mechanisms, communication campaigns to spread awareness about consent and reporting mechanisms, and finally the promotion of student and staff commitment to combat sexual assault and gender-based violence on campuses.

In June, the public prosecutor’s office for Evry (Essonne) told AFP that it had opened several investigations for rape in the four major French universities of the area, including the renowned establishments of Polytechnique and Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), after receiving “several complaints” of sexual assault.

Sexual assault in France is defined as “any forced sexual contact” and it is punishable by 5 years of imprisonment and a €75,000 fine (Article 222-27 of the Penal Code)”

Neighbouring Spain has recently passed a ground-breaking ‘only yes means yes’ law on sexual consent, meaning that consent must be affirmative and cannot be assumed to have been given by default, or by silence.