France’s teachers’ unions call for strike against government COVID-19 rule changes

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A majority of France’s education unions are urging teachers and school personnel to go on strike on Thursday in protest of the government’s changing COVID-19 policy in schools.

One of the largest French education unions, the SNUIPP-FSU, said they expected 75% to go on strike and resulting in the closures of around half of schools.

The union called it an “historic mobilisation”, adding that it was not a strike against the virus but rather a reflection of growing anger in schools.

Parents and teachers learned last week that students in classes where someone has a case of COVID-19 would have to be tested three times in a week in order to keep the class open.

There are currently more than 300,000 new COVID-19 infections a day in France, the highest number of daily cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

It’s due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant and has resulted in tens of thousands of school classes being closed due to COVID.

Vaccination only recently opened to young children, with less than 1% of those under the age of 11 fully vaccinated.

Education unions demand that school personnel and students be equipped with surgical masks and respirators as well as self-tests. They are also urging the government to delay the Baccalaureat to June due to the health crisis.

The government said on Tuesday that more than 10,000 school classes were closed, representing around 2% of primary school classes, but that their goal was to keep schools open.

Ahead of the education strike, Prime Minister Jean Castex said the rules would be simplified, stating that there would be free self-tests available in pharmacies and that three self-tests were sufficient for contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 in schools.

Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on cable television: “it’s not as if we were in a normal period, we’re in a severe crisis”. He said that people shouldn’t strike against a virus.

The COVID-19 epidemic comes as France prepares for an April presidential election with multiple candidates on both the left and right supporting teachers who are striking against the government.

Managing COVID-19 infections in schools has been a challenge throughout the pandemic, with the World Health Organization’s European regional director stating this week that schools must be the last to close.

“Keeping schools open has important benefits for children’s mental, social and educational well-being. Schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen,” Hans Kluge said.

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