31.08.2020 Europe

French teachers prepare for heavily masked school re-opening

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
LISTEN AUG 31, 2020
REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Nearly 13 million French youngsters are due to return to school on Tuesday. On Monday, teachers meet to prepare the new academic year under the shadow of the uncertainties caused by the continuing coronavirus epidemic.

Everyone is due back in school tomorrow. There will be no exceptions for the 12.4 million students, or for their 866,000 teachers. “School is obligatory,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has been reminding anyone who might be inclined to forget.

For the very young, who face their first day in school tomorrow, the minister has called for an intelligent pragmatism on the question of allowing distraught parents to accompany their offspring into the harsh realities of the classroom.

“The principle is to avoid, as much as possible, contact between adults,” says the minister, showing his own pragmatism.

Teachers must wear masks in class

All teachers will be obliged to wear the masks supplied by the education ministry. Those who consider themselves to be particularly vulnerable, because of age or background health issues, will be entitled to demand surgical-quality protection.

It is hoped to distribute transparent masks to the teachers in junior classes. The youngest kids will not be obliged to wear masks.

All children in French middle schools (collèges) and high schools (lycées) must wear masks. The state has refused to pay for the supply, so local government will, in most cases, foot the bill.

Staggered recreation and meal breaks

During breaks and recreation, all children over the age of 11 will be obliged to continue wearing their masks. Staff are asked to limit exchanges between the various age groups, in as far as possible.

The times of recreation periods can be staggered for different classes. Similarly, service hours in school canteens are to be extended to prevent overcrowding.

In the event of a child or teacher showing symptoms of coronavirus infection, tests will be carried out immediately on all those who have been in direct contact with the supposed sufferer. Those in the infection chain showing symptoms will themselves be encouraged to go into isolation.

School closures are not ruled out by the minister, who has also accepted that a return to remote learning will be allowed, if necessary.

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