Teachers across France staged an all-day protest on Thursday against changes to Covid testing rules. They say they have disrupted classes, and are now too lax in protecting against the Omicron variant tearing across the country.
Many teachers’ unions also planned protest marches, with one of the largest expected to start in Paris on Thursday afternoon. Although the education ministry stated that almost 40% of elementary school teachers and 25% of secondary school teachers were on strike at the moment, unions have reported higher numbers.
Although the ministry did not provide details about how many schools were closed, one of the largest unions stated that it expected approximately half of elementary schools would close due to the walkout.
The stop-work action, which most of the country’s teaching unions supported, posed a serious challenge for President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which has taken pride in keeping its schools open longer than many other European countries during the pandemic.
“I fundamentally believe the choice that we made to keep schools open is the right choice,” Mr. Macron said at a news conference on Tuesday.
However, the policies that were put in place to keep schools open came at a price. Complex testing rules were set up by the government to protect entire classes from being sent home and prevent schools from being shut down for a small percentage of positive cases. Officials altered the rules twice in a matter days, confusing millions upon millions of teachers and parents. The testing protocols led parents and children to stand in the cold outside of pharmacies and medical labs, causing them to be frustrated.
Jean Castex, the Prime Minister, announced Monday that protocols would be relaxed to stop anger growing. Parents will no longer need to pick up their children from school immediately after a classmate tests positive. Exposed children won’t have to be tested at labs or pharmacies in order to return to class. The tests could be done at your home.
Teachers claimed that the simplified rules increase the risk of infection at school. They also complained for weeks about a lack of equipment, such as air quality monitors or high-protective masks.
“They’ve opened school doors wide to Omicron and royally couldn’t give a damn about teaching personnel,” a union of school principals wrote on Twitter on Monday after Mr. Castex’s announcement.
France now has an average of nearly 300,000 coronavirus cases per day. This is almost six times more than a month ago, and far more than at any other time during the pandemic. Olivier Véran, the country’s health minister, said on Thursday that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Mr. Véran, who is fully vaccinated, said on Twitter that he would self-isolate and work remotely.”
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According to French authorities the Covid epidemic has caused more than 10,000 French schools to close. Tens of thousands are infected.
The walkout, which was planned earlier in the week, “demonstrates the growing despair in schools,” Snuipp-F.S.U., the leading union of elementary school personnel, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Not only does the current protocol fail to protect students, staff and their families, but it also completely disorganizes schools,” the statement read.
Although teachers’ strikes are common in France, they do not often unite as many unions as Thursday’s action. A major parents’ federation also called on parents to march side by side with teachers.
Source: NY Times