France changes Covid school rules following massive teachers' strike

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  • Jean-Michel Blanquer
    French politician and jurist

Millions of high-grade FFP2 masks are to be given to French teachers and thousands of extra staff hired after the government – faced with widespread criticism over its "unlogistical" school Covid protocols – held talks with angry union bosses.

Headmasters, inspectors, school nurses, maintenance staff and even parents joined teachers Thursday for nationwide rallies rallies to demand clearer Covid guidelines.

In the aftermath of this strike, Prime Minister Jean Castex, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer and Health Minister Olivier Véran met with teachers unions at the Ministry of Education in order to re-establish trust and dialogue.

New measures include holding meetings twice a month with unions, distributing five million FFP2 masks to teachers – especially ones who work with children too young to wear masks – hiring 3,300 contractual staff to replace those absent, postponing next week's evaluation for first graders, and possibly putting off the Baccalaureate exams planned for March.

Sophie Vénétitay, spokesperson for the secondary school union SNES-FSU, welcomed the measures but remained cautious.

“We felt that they were listening and willing to explain a certain number of things to us. They have made some commitments. It remains to be seen whether these fine promises will be kept in the long term,” she said.

Although the Education Ministry said that almost 40 percent of France’s primary school teachers had participated in the school walk out, the French press dubbed this strike as “historic”, “massive” and “closely followed” – with top French union Snuipp putting the figure at 75 percent, as one out of every two primary schools were closed yesterday.

Presidential elections

Candidates for April's upcoming presidential vote capitalised on the strike to express their views on the government's handling of the issue. Macron has prided his team on keeping schools open to ease pressure on parents and ensure that the economy does not suffer as a result of the pandemic.

In an interview with Le Parisien, Damien Abad, advisor to Valérie Pécresse, candidate for the Les Républicains party, accused Blanquer of having created “a big mess at school.”

While far-left candidates Jean-Luc Melenchon and Socialist Anne Hidalgo joined protestors marching in Paris. And finally, Jordan Bardella, spokesman for the far right National Rally, said the strike demonstrated that “the problem above all is Emmanuel Macron”.

When asked whether he could acknowledge that he had made mistakes regarding the management of the crisis, especially the clumsy communication between the government and education staff concerning updates to Covid protocol, Blanquer replied: “I am not perfect, I make mistakes, it’s in the nature of human beings.”

(With Wires)

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