La Rentreé : How schools in France will operate under new four-tier Covid protocol

La Rentreé : How schools in France will operate under new four-tier Covid protocol
Photo: Damien Meyer / AFP
Schools in France reopened on Thursday under a new four-tier protocol that the government hopes will keep Covid-19 cases at bay and allow schools to stay open. We explain the new system.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, one week ahead of the new academic year, education minister Jean Michel-Blanquer said neither students nor teachers would be required to show a health pass when schools reopen on September 2nd.

“School must remain accessible for all, that’s why there won’t be a health pass required,” he said. “It’s our philosophy since the beginning of the crisis.”

Blanquer also said all pupils over the age of 12 will be given the possibility of getting a Covid-19 jab at school – although this will not be compulsory.

“In all secondary schools in France, pupils and staff will have access to the vaccine, near or within their establishment,” he said.

“Depending on the situation, either medical teams will come to vaccinate students in schools, or we will organise trips to vaccination centres for the those who wish to get vaccinated, in collaboration with the health services.”

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So far, about 63 percent of 12 to 17 year-olds have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

As for teachers, “the percentage of teachers who have been vaccinated is very high. I think it is over 80 percent,” said Blanquer. “This figure needs to get as close as possible to 100 percent in order for us to avoid making vaccination mandatory. Doing so would be a last resort.”

For students too young to be vaccinated, the focus will be on testing. Blanquer said during an interview with France Inter on Wednesday, September 1st, that there would be 600,000 saliva tests per week in primary schools.

The French government has put together a four-tier protocol – green, yellow, orange and red – for schools which can be altered depending on the health situation.

There is the possibility for local changes, so that areas which high numbers of cases can impose tighter rules.

For the moment, however, Blanquer announced that all schools in metropolitan France will be on level two (yellow level) when classes restart on Thursday.

Here’s how the levels work.

Green level

  • In-person lessons at primary schools, collèges and lycées;
  • Primary school classes and 6eme classes at collèges, where students are too young to be vaccinated (France is currently offering the vaccine only to over-12s): will be closed for seven days if one pupil or member of staff tests positive for Covid-19;
  • Collège and lycée classes: Unvaccinated students will be sent home from school if a pupil in their class tests positive for Covid-19. Vaccinated students can still attend classes;
  • Reinforced ventilation and hand-washing measures;
  • Masks to be worn indoors for staff and students at collèges and lycées;
  • Group sizes to be limited where possible;
  • Disinfection of frequently touched surfaces once a day and dining tables after each service;
  • No restrictions on physical and sporting activities;
  • No restrictions on pupils mixing at meal times, but arrangement of dining rooms to create as much space as possible, and tables to be cleaned and disinfected after each meal / service.

Yellow level

  • In-person lessons at primary schools, collèges and lycées;
  • Primary school classes and 6eme classes at collèges, where students are too young to be vaccinated: will be closed for seven days if one pupil or member of staff tests positive for Covid-19;
  • Collège and lycée classes: Unvaccinated students will be sent home from school if a pupil in their class tests positive for Covid-19. Vaccinated students can still attend classes;
  • Reinforced ventilation and hand-washing measures;
  • Masks to be worn indoors for staff and students at collèges and lycées;
  • Group sizes to be limited according to age and education level;
  • Disinfection of frequently touched surfaces several times a day and dining tables after each service;
  • Physical and sports activities authorised outdoors. Indoor activities must respect 2m distance rules;
  • Students to eat at the same table, in the same groups at meal times; serving arrangements to be adapted to reduce chances of contamination; arrangement of dining rooms to create as much space as possible, and tables to be cleaned and disinfected after each meal / service.

Orange level

  • In-person lessons at primary schools and collèges;
  • Mix of in-person and distance learning for lycée students according to the local situation;
  • Primary school classes and 6eme classes at collèges, where students are too young to be vaccinated: will be closed for seven days if one pupil or member of staff tests positive for Covid-19;
  • Collège and lycée classes: Unvaccinated students will be sent home from school if a pupil in their class tests positive for Covid-19. Vaccinated students can still attend classes;
  • Reinforced ventilation and hand-washing measures;
  • Facemasks required indoors and outdoors for staff and students from primary school age upwards;
  • Group sizes to be limited according to age and education level – and by class at mealtimes;
  • Disinfection of frequently touched surfaces several times a day and of dining room tables after each meal, if possible;
  • Physical and sports activities authorised outdoors. ‘Low-intensity’ indoor activities that can take place while wearing masks also permitted;
  • Students to eat at the same table, in the same groups at meal times while respecting 2m distance rules from other groups; serving arrangements to be adapted to reduce chances of contamination; arrangement of dining rooms to create as much space as possible, and tables to be cleaned and disinfected after each meal.

Red level

  • In-person lessons at primary schools and at 6eme and 5eme at collèges;
  • Mix of in-person and distance learning for collège students at 4eme and 3eme level, and lycée students, with a maximum of 50 percent capacity in classes;
  • Primary school classes and 6eme classes at collèges, where students are too young to be vaccinated: will be closed for seven days if one pupil or member of staff tests positive for Covid-19;
  • Collège and lycée classes: Unvaccinated students will be sent home from school if a pupil in their class tests positive for Covid-19. Vaccinated students can still attend classes;
  • Reinforced ventilation and hand-washing measures;
  • Facemasks required indoors and outdoors for staff and students from primary school age upwards;
  • Group sizes to be limited according to age and education level – and by class at mealtimes at higher levels;
  • Disinfection of frequently touched surfaces several times a day and of dining room tables after each meal, if possible;
  • Physical and sporting activities are only allowed outdoors. All such activities must respect 2m distance rules;
  • Students to eat at the same table, in the same groups at meal times while respecting 2m distance rules from other groups; serving arrangements to be adapted to reduce chances of contamination; arrangement of dining rooms to create as much space as possible, and tables to be cleaned and disinfected after each meal.

Member comments

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  1. A few question arise about the strategy for in-person school in France:

    1.) Strategies are in place to quickly react to COVID19 positive cases. Are children that show mild cold symptoms (runny nose, headache, fatigue etc.), automatically considered potential COVID19 carriers and need to quarantine, even without a COVID19 test?
    2.) Are regular COVID19 tests being offered/recommended or required to discover the frequent asymptomatic cases and prevalence among school children. If no one is testing, the virus will spread quickly among the unvaccinated population, particularly indoors, if the Delta-variant is present. Masking with non FFP2/N94 will only have a modest affect in preventing the spread in classrooms that are not equipped with serious ventilation and air filtration.

    3.) The regulation above mentions ‘Reinforced ventilation’. What is the definition? Are Co2 detectors being installed (cheap and easy to use), AC systems with HEPA air filtration? Open windows?

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