Paris, eight in the morning. The narrow sidewalks of Rue de Chabrol, located in the 10th arrondissement, gradually fill up with parents and children returning to school. For most, it is about ‘la rentrée’, going back to school, the most atypical they have ever experienced. If it weren’t for the masks — mandatory for teachers and students over 11 years old, and also on the streets of Paris since last Friday — it seems that nothing has changed: effusive greetings, reunion hugs and the excitement of the first day abound in the door of the Bousset Notre-Dame College.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my friends,” says seven-year-old Gabriel, accompanied by his parents who share how teaching at home has been a tremendous challenge. “We did it in shifts, we managed, but it has been exhausting and we need to focus on our work. We hope that everything goes well and that the school can remain open ”.
Virginie, a single mother, waits her turn to say goodbye to Madelaine, trying to respect the white lines marked on the floor to maintain a certain order. “During the confinement we have had daily contact with the teachers and we have followed the online classes very rigorously,” she explains, not entirely satisfied. “As good as distance education is, Madelaine is four years old. Now more than ever she needs contact with other children, have fun and learn outside the home. ”
In France, more than 12 million children return to school after three months of vacation and another three months of school interrupted by the pandemic. Nurseries, schools and institutes must follow a health protocol in which social distance is not mandatory, but it is recommended: shifts in the dining room and at recess, if possible. The washing of hands, the ventilation of the classes and the hygiene of the centers is essential. Children will be able to remove their masks to eat and in physical education class and they will also be able to share toys and materials with their classmates.
“Oh, the mask …!”, Virginie adds, who says she is not entirely calm. “It is a mixture of fear and stress… and a lot of uncertainty. I don’t want to think about possible outbreaks, I tell myself that everything will be fine and I’ll worry if it happens ”. And it is that most parents are aware that schools can close again at any time, in case of re-emergence. The protocol also requires them to take their children’s temperature every morning and not take them to school if they exceed 38 degrees fever. Most parents agree with Virginie: “the great dilemma will come when the times of flu and colds begin”.
It is one of the many doubts surrounding the protocol, which has also led to controversy: teachers wonder how to teach with their mouths covered and families worry about how much the masks cost, the level of resources to guarantee the distance in schools or who will take care of the children if the situation worsens.
Several sectors have been demanding the French government to subsidize masks for families for weeks. “It would be of great help to us,” says Mamadou, a father of three girls. “For us it is a huge expense at the end of the month.” According to one estimate, a family of four can spend around 300 euros a month on masks. More and more unions and opposition politicians are calling for “masks for all” and some municipalities, such as the one in Paris, have pledged to provide a washable fabric mask per month for each student.