Teachers in France Plan Strike Over Covid Rules for Classrooms

Teachers across France staged a one-day strike on Thursday to protest changing Covid testing rules which they say have disrupted lessons and are now too lax to protect against the tear-off Omicron variant Across the country.

Tens of thousands of teachers and school staff also took to the streets of France. The education ministry said nearly 40 percent of primary teachers and nearly a quarter of secondary teachers are on strike, though unions believe the numbers are much higher.

The ministry did not say how many schools were closed for the day, but one of the largest unions said it expected around half of primary schools to close due to the walkout.

“The epidemic must be stopped, but the policy that has been chosen is not consistent,” said Louise Diego Taboada, a high school teacher who was demonstrating near the Luxembourg Gardens in central Paris with thousands of people. ‘other school employees.

Thousands of people were also demonstrating in cities like Marseille, Lyon and Rennes.

The stoppage of work action, which most of the country’s teacher unions have supported, has posed a serious challenge to the government of President Emmanuel Macron, which is proud to keep its schools open longer than many other European countries. during the pandemic.

“I fundamentally believe that the choice we made to keep schools open is the right choice,” Macron said at a press conference on Tuesday.

But the policies put in place to keep schools open come at a cost. The government has put in place complex testing rules designed to prevent entire classes from being sent home or entire schools from being closed for a small number of positive cases. Authorities then changed the rules twice in a matter of days, confusing millions of parents and teachers. Testing protocols have led to meandering lines of exasperated parents and children standing in the cold outside pharmacies and medical labs.

To stave off a growing wave of anger, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Monday that the protocols would be relaxed. Parents would no longer have to pick up their children immediately after a classmate tested positive, and exposed children would no longer need to be tested in pharmacies and labs to return to class. Instead, the tests could be done at home.

But teachers said the simplified rules increased the risk of infections at school. They have also been complaining for weeks about a lack of equipment like air quality monitors and a shortage of highly protective masks.

“They opened the doors to the school at Omicron wide and they made fun of the teaching staff,” a union of principals said. wrote on Twitter Monday after Mr. Castex’s announcement.

France now has on average nearly 300,000 new cases of coronavirus reported per day, nearly six times more than a month ago and far more than at any time prior to the pandemic. Olivier Véran, the country’s Minister of Health, 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.

The surge in Covid infections has resulted in the closure of more than 10,000 classrooms in France, and tens of thousands of students are currently infected, according to French authorities.

The walkout, which was expected earlier in the week, “demonstrates the growing desperation in schools,” Snuipp-FSU, the main union for primary school staff, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Not only does the current protocol fail to protect students, staff and their families, it also completely disrupts schools,” the statement said.

Ms. Diego Taboada, the teacher, said that “contempt is constant” on the part of the Ministry of Education and the school staff “have no support, no means”.

Although teacher strikes are common in France, they often don’t bring together as many unions as Thursday’s action. A large parents’ federation also called on parents to walk alongside teachers.

Adele Shoemaker contributed to the Paris report.

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