REVEALED: What are France’s new Covid health rules for schools?

REVEALED: What are France's new Covid health rules for schools?
Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP.
France's education minister has announced yet another set of new health rules for schools that will be enforced from the start of the next school year. Here's what you need to know.

With worries over the delta variant of Covid-19, and with authorities putting pressure on teenagers to get vaccinated, what will the return to school look like in September?

As of September 30th, the French health pass will be mandatory for young people aged 12 to 17 years old. “Our objective is not to apply the health pass in schools or universities,” education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told franceinfo on Wednesday morning as he unveiled the new health plan.

Instead, health restrictions will depend on the spread of the virus. Here are the rules teachers and pupils will have to follow.

Four levels

In the health protocol for the academic year 2021-2022, the Ministry of Education has created four levels for schools, ranging from green, yellow, orange to red, which will depend on the health situation and the spread of the virus, and which will dictate which measures are applied.

The level when students return to school in September will be determined in accordance to the health situation at the time, and as the situation changes, the level could change at either a national level, or a local (département, académie, or regional) level.

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Primary schools

Primary school pupils will have in-person classes regardless of the alert level.

At the green level, pupils won’t have to wear a mask. But masks will become mandatory indoors at the yellow level, as well as outdoors at orange and red levels.

And no matter the level, classes will be closed the minute a Covid-19 case is detected. 

Moreover, “students will be tested more frequently”, Blanquer said, adding that “at least 600 000 salivary tests will be performed per week.”

Secondary schools and high schools

Wearing a mask remains mandatory for students indoors at the green and yellow levels and will become mandatory outdoors if the health situation reaches orange or red level.

If a Covid case is detected in their class, non-vaccinated students will have to follow courses remotely during 7 days, while those who are vaccinated will still be able to attend classes, according to Blanquer.

Sixième classes at collège, however, are likely to close if a case of Covid-19 is detected, as most pupils will be under the age of 12 and therefore currently ineligible for any vaccine, the Ministry of Education later told francetvinfo.

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Collège (secondary school) students will have in-person classes, unless red level is declared, in which case students in 4ème and 3ème will have hybrid classes with 50 percent capacity in classrooms.

Lycée (high school) students could have hybrid classes at orange level depending on the local context, while capacity in all high school classes will be reduced to 50 percent at red level.

There will be between 6,000 and 7,000 vaccination centres in close proximity to schools. Students will be able to get vaccinated with a written authorization from their parents.

Sports activities from primary to high schools will be authorized outdoors and indoors at the green level, and will be maintained outdoors at the red level but with social distancing.

Students must respect social distancing measures of at least one meter whenever possible.

Teachers

All teachers and other school workers must wear a mask indoors, and in orange and red areas, this will also apply outdoors.

For the moment, vaccination will not be mandatory for teachers. More than 80 percent of teachers in France are already vaccinated against Covid, according to Blanquer, who said obligatory jabs must be “a last resort”.

On Tuesday, fifty percent of the French population had received at least one dose and the French government is continuing its efforts to get people vaccinated.

What’s been the reaction from French unions?

Sophie Vénétitay, deputy secretary-general of the SNES-FSU teachers’ union, called the plan “out of touch with reality”.

“The minister told us last week that 20 percent of 12 to 16-year-olds had received a first vaccine dose, and we don’t know where we’ll be in September,” she told franceinfo. “There are a lot who, even if they wanted to be vaccinated, won’t be by then.”

Nageate Belahcen, co-president of the FCPE parents’ association, criticised the plan to send only non-vaccinated students to work from home if a classmate tests positive.

“We’re stigmatising a section of them, even though they’re dependent on the choices of their parents,” Belahcen told franceinfo. “We’re saying they won’t have the same rights as pupils who are vaccinated […] It’s not at all what we were hoping for.”


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