'Sick of Zoom': Teachers and students rally in France for more virus support

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French schoolteachers and university students staged nationwide strikes and protests on Tuesday as they joined forces to demand more government support amid the pandemic.

“No virus protocol, no school!” read posters carried by schoolteachers, demanding better virus protections at their schools, which have remained open since September amid concern over learning gaps and to ease the burden on working parents.

“Sick of Zoom!” chanted university students, frustrated that they've been barred from campuses since October.

Aside from virus fears, the common concern at Tuesday's protests in Paris, Marseille and other cities around France was economic.

Teachers unions, who are negotiating with the government for improved conditions, want higher salaries and for the government to hire more educators after years of cost cuts.

At a rally in the western city of Rennes, Axel Benoist, the head of the Snuep-FSU union, said teachers had lost "an average of 275 euros per month in purchasing power over the past decade".

Other protesters stressed the need to hire more supply teachers, noting that colleagues are seldom replaced when they fall sick.

The education ministry said about 12% of teachers nationwide took part in Tuesday's strike, though unions said the figure was higher.

'Lost generation'

Students, meanwhile, are seeking more government financial support and want to call attention to emotional troubles among young people cut off from friends, professors and job opportunities amid the pandemic.

With French universities in limbo amid the latest resurgence in Covid-19 infections, alarm bells are ringing over the social, psychological and academic consequences of months of lockdowns, curfews and online teaching for students holed up in cramped dwellings many can ill afford.

>> As students despair, France addresses plight of pandemic’s ‘lost generation’

Acknowledging their concerns last week, President Emmanuel Macron said students would be allowed to return to campus one day a week, provided lecture halls and classrooms don’t exceed 20% capacity.

Macron also said he would look to ensure all students have access to one-euro meals twice a day at university cafeterias, as well as psychological support free of charge.

While welcoming the measures, student unions want more financial support and a return to the rotating scheme that was in place ahead of the country’s second nationwide lockdown, with students alternating between online and classroom teaching.

UNEF, the country's largest student union, has called for a 1.5 billion euro ($1.8 billion) emergency plan to boost grants and help students pay for accommodation.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)