Teachers On Strike For The Management Of The Pandemic In France: "We Ask For More Protection"

The education sector has mobilized this Thursday in France with a massive strike to protest against the government’s management against the pandemic. The mobilization has brought together teachers, directors, inspectors, maintenance personnel, nursing personnel and associations of fathers and mothers.

It is estimated that more than half of French schools have had to close their doors. The unions have reported a follow-up of 75% in early childhood and primary education centers and 62% in secondary schools. The Ministry of Education, for its part, has reported the absence of 38.4% and 23.7% of teachers in primary and secondary schools, respectively.

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The trigger for the mobilization has been the new health protocol established by the Government, announced on January 3 through an interview with the Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, in the pages of Le Parisien. The educational staff thus discovered the new organization a few hours before resuming the school year. And since then, the protocol has been modified on two other occasions, while teachers denounce the confusion generated by the frequent changes.

Initially called by the National Union of Teachers and Teachers (SNUipp-FSU), the call was quickly joined by other national federations of primary and secondary education. “The current protocol not only fails to protect students, staff and their families, but also completely disrupts the school,” the SNUipp-FSU said in a statement.

The strike has also had the support of the Federation of Parents’ Councils (FCPE), one of the two main associations of fathers and mothers in France. In a joint statement, the organizations highlight the “exhaustion and exasperation of the entire educational community”, linked to the “chaotic situation”, the result of, they say, “the incessant changes in the Government”.

In France, when a primary school student tests positive for COVID-19, all his classmates must take three tests in five days, except for the unvaccinated who go directly to quarantine. But on Monday, the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, announced a new change in the protocol, indicating that these three tests could be self-tests – those that are bought to be done at home – and not necessarily PCR or antigens – a measure that had contributed to the formation of long queues at pharmacies, where tests are also carried out. The announcement was made again in the press –in this case, on a newscast– and aimed to calm the protests of the parents, although it did not respond to the demands of the teachers.

As part of the mobilization, dozens of demonstrations had been called throughout the country. In Paris, protesters have gathered in front of the Luxembourg gardens to walk the streets of the capital towards the Ministry of Education. “We have asked for more protection and on Monday the prime minister announces that the protocol is being reduced to speed up the procedures,” Víctor, who has been teaching at a Paris institute for 12 years, tells elDiario.es. “It is total negligence on the part of the government.”

The teachers demand a “protective” and “stable” health protocol, with adequate means – FFP2 surgical masks and air purifiers – as well as replacement personnel to replace casualties. The SNUipp-FSU, majority in schools, also prefers to return to the rule that established the closure of the class with a single positive case.

The minister – the main character in the protesters’ banners – remains firm in his position of keeping classes open, both for the well-being of the students and not to penalize economic activity. In any case, the current wave of infections has caused the closure of more than 10,400 classes throughout the country, 2% of the total, according to figures announced by the Government.

“We also want schools to be open, but not at any price,” says Marie, also present at the demonstration in the French capital. The young teacher began her career in a primary school in the north of Paris “in a somewhat conflictive area”, a year before the pandemic. “To the lack of means and support that we experienced before, the entire health situation has been added, in a system that was already at the limit.”

Despite the strike, most secondary schools and institutes have been open, as the minimum services state that directors, even if they support the call, must open the centers, unlike primary schools. Unless 100% of teachers are mobilized, students have classes with those who are present.

In primary and infant schools, the law establishes that if less than 25% of the teachers in a center are on strike, the students of the absent teachers are divided into the classes of those present. But the new protocol prevents classes from mixing. In addition, if more than 25% of the teachers are on strike, it is up to the municipality to provide the reception service and take care of the students during school hours.

And in many cases, municipalities do not have the means. This is the case in Houilles, about 15 kilometers west of Paris, where a few days ago the centers began warning parents that they would close their doors on Thursday. “We received an email apologizing and saying there would be no teachers or staff at the school today,” says Manon, a mother of a three-year-old girl. In her case, her professional activity allows her and her husband to be at home, so they can adapt, but other families are forced to find a solution to care for the children. “Because they haven’t given us any alternative, they just told us they were sorry.”

Given the breadth of the mobilization, the prime minister announced on Thursday that he would receive the unions that represent the national education staff at the end of the afternoon. “Jean Castex has responded favorably to the request for a hearing made by the unions that represent teaching staff,” his cabinet said in a statement. The meeting was held at the Ministry of National Education, Youth and Sports, in the presence of Blanquer. The Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran, was also present, although by videoconference, since he announced his positive for coronavirus on the same day.

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