President Emmanuel Macron addressed the nation on April 13 to inform French citizens that a nationwide lockdown will be extended until May 11. During the speech, he announced that schools would begin progressively re-opening from that date to enable all French children equal access to education.
Macron said it was necessary to reboot the education system because “too many children, notably in poorer areas, in the countryside, are deprived of school, without access to digital tools.” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer agrees and has sought to assure students, teachers, and parents that their health and safety will be guaranteed when classes resume.
French doctors have come out in support of teachers who think May 11 is too soon to safely reopen the education system. French Federation of Doctors President Jean-Paul Hamon said it represents “an unnecessary risk” to children, teachers, parents, and the community at large.
“Children do not necessarily follow instructions, they will naturally play together and they risk bringing the virus home,” Hamon said in an interview with FranceInfo.
Hamon said he understands that the current situation might create education inequalities for certain students but he still believes the decision is “premature” and that school should instead recommence in September, the traditional start of the French school year.
French teachers have also expressed their reservations about a May 11 return to the classroom. French primary teacher’s union SNUipp-FSU spokeswoman Francette Popineau said teachers and students were looking forward to getting back into the classroom, but only if it is safe to do so.
“We are told that public spaces like cinemas and theatres will remain closed, but not schools, even as we know that they are places of high transmission and contamination,” Popineau said.
“We have the impression that we are being sacrificed on the altar of the economy,” she added.
SNUEP-FSU, which represents public school teachers, has threatened union action if their demands regarding anti-COVID-19 measures for the classroom are not met.
“Each staff member and student must be equipped with masks, and tested, disinfectant must be available in each classroom and social-distancing measures must be respected – this final condition is however impossible given the number of students per class,” the SNUEP-FSU said in a statement on April 14.