France kept classrooms open 'at all costs.' Some say the price was too high
May 4, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.
Compression ratio: 23.3%. 2 min read.
Grace was full of hope as she entered the final stretch of high school. The 16-year-old was two years away from graduating, and she wanted to make her parents proud -- especially her father.
In all, at least 20 students from her high school, Eugene Delacroix, in nearby Drancy, lost a relative to the virus in 2020, according to the town hall.
Aside from a brief closure near the start of the pandemic, France has made its open schools policy a point of pride in the name of both reopening the economy and delivering a social service, with some parents relying on school meals to feed their children.
"We need the children to go back to class because there's a danger they'll be left behind, learning gaps will appear and educational inequalities are exacerbated," French President Emmanuel Macron told journalists during a visit to a school in a suburb northwest of Paris in May last year.
Colleen Brown, who teaches English at Eugene Delacroix to classrooms packed with 30 children, said the restrictions were impossible to implement at the start of the school year.
"France may be exceptional in that they've kept the schools open at all costs, but they have not been exceptional in funding the schools so that they can do that safely," Brown said.
At the height of the third wave, as virus cases began to spike at Eugene Delacroix, a total of 22 classes had to close after students and teachers tested positive for Covid-19, according to the teachers' union.
The teachers' union sent an open letter to Macron and Blanquer decrying the current situation and calling for the "immediate and temporary closure of the high school. " Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is eyeing a bid for the presidency in 2022, echoed their call and asked for schools across the capital to close to rein in the spread of the virus, but no action was taken.
"It was necessary for children to go to school, not only because of the education and learning, but also for interactions with others and for psychological and health reasons," Blanquer said.
But between January and March, the fear of catching Covid-19 became part of school life for the 2,400 pupils at Eugene Delacroix, some students said.
Officials now say they are doing everything in their power so schools can reopen safely, including rolling out saliva-based testing and vaccines for teachers over 55 -- which accounts for only 16% of all teachers, according to health ministry figures.