France saved school rooms open ‘in any respect prices.’ Some say the value was too excessive

2021-05-04 16:31:31

“I advised him I cherished him, and I’d all the time do my finest,” Grace mentioned.   

This might be the final promise she ever made to her father, as he lay intubated in an ICU unit for Covid-19 sufferers. He died the subsequent day, on April 9 of final yr, on the peak of the primary wave in France. 

Grace’s world was shattered. She advised CNN she dreaded going again to highschool in Seine-Saint-Denis, a suburb northeast of Paris that was hit arduous by the pandemic, final September.

When she returned, it was nonetheless the college she remembered. However for Grace — who didn’t need her final identify printed to guard her household — nothing was the identical.

She apprehensive the opposite college students would deal with her otherwise, and was shocked when certainly one of her classmates confided in her that she too had misplaced her father to Covid-19.

In all, at the very least 20 college students from her highschool, Eugene Delacroix, in close by Drancy, misplaced a relative to the virus in 2020, based on the city corridor.

Nothing suggests these deaths had been brought on by infections on the faculty. However CNN has spoken with college students at Eugene Delacroix who say they share a typical burden: The worry of bringing Covid-19 dwelling and infecting a cherished one.  

Open colleges coverage

Apart from a quick closure close to the beginning of the pandemic, France has made its open colleges coverage some extent of pleasure within the identify of each reopening the financial system and delivering a social service, with some mother and father counting on faculty meals to feed their kids.

The federal government’s said conviction is that the advantages of opening colleges far outweigh the associated fee. 

“Let’s not overlook what makes us proud. No different nation within the European Union has left its colleges open as a lot as France has,” France’s European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, tweeted this previous March, a day earlier than Italy shuttered its colleges once more as a result of rising infections. 
France has solely closed its colleges for a complete of 10 weeks because the starting of the pandemic — one of many lowest charges in Europe, based on figures from UNESCO, in comparison with 35 weeks for Italy, 28 for Germany and 27 weeks for the UK. 
Doctors warn Paris ICUs could be overwhelmed by Covid-19 surge

Throughout the first wave of the pandemic final spring, the federal government shuttered colleges in March, earlier than progressively reopening them in Might and June.

“We want the kids to return to class as a result of there is a hazard they’re going to be left behind, studying gaps will seem and academic inequalities are exacerbated,” French President Emmanuel Macron advised journalists throughout a go to to a college in a suburb northwest of Paris in Might final yr.
In September, it turned obligatory for the greater than 12 million schoolchildren in France to return to class. These aged 11 and over needed to put on masks, school rooms wanted to be ventilated and social distancing was imposed in corridors and canteens. 

Not all colleges had been in a position to respect the security protocols, particularly these in poor neighborhoods.

Colleen Brown teaches English at Eugene Delacroix high school. She says French classrooms have been kept open "at all costs" during much of the coronavirus pandemic.

Colleen Brown, who teaches English at Eugene Delacroix to school rooms filled with 30 kids, mentioned the restrictions had been inconceivable to implement at the beginning of the college yr. Home windows would not open, she mentioned, some kids eliminated their masks, they lacked cleansing workers and there was hardly any testing for the virus. 

“France could also be distinctive in that they’ve saved the colleges open in any respect prices, however they haven’t been distinctive in funding the colleges in order that they’ll try this safely,” Brown mentioned.

Regardless of Brown’s pleas and each day worry of going into the constructing, she mentioned little was completed by way of protecting measures; complaints she and different lecturers finally made to highschool officers in January fell on deaf ears. 

CNN contacted the Creteil faculty board, which oversees Eugene Delacroix, however has not obtained a response. 

Schooling Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer advised CNN he acknowledged that the insurance policies put in place weren’t good.

Requires closures

In the meantime in the UK, most kids had been being taught from dwelling after the federal government imposed a nationwide lockdown and colleges had been closed because the extra contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first recognized in that nation, raged.

When that variant made its manner over to France and its colleges, the “Stylos Rouge” (Purple Pens) grassroots motion, made up of 72,000 training staff, sued Blanquer. In March they accused him of failing to guard educating workers in shut contact with kids “who unfold the virus.” 

And nowhere was that unfold felt extra acutely than in Seine-Saint Denis, then the worst-hit area in France, based on the well being ministry. 

On the top of the third wave, as virus circumstances started to spike at Eugene Delacroix, a complete of twenty-two lessons needed to shut after college students and lecturers examined optimistic for Covid-19, based on the lecturers’ union. The federal government’s coverage had been that three college students wanted to check optimistic earlier than a category needed to quarantine. That was reduce down to 1 scholar by March 2021. 

The lecturers’ union despatched an open letter to Macron and Blanquer decrying the present scenario and calling for the “quick and non permanent closure of the highschool.” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who’s eyeing a bid for the presidency in 2022, echoed their name and requested for colleges throughout the capital to shut to rein within the unfold of the virus, however no motion was taken. 
An empty classroom at the Saint-Exupery school in the Paris suburb of La Courneuve. France has closed its schools for a total of 10 weeks since the beginning of the pandemic -- far less than many other European countries.

Blanquer defended his open colleges coverage to CNN. He mentioned he made a alternative in favor of the kids and their future. 

“It was essential for kids to go to highschool, not solely due to the training and studying, but in addition for interactions with others and for psychological and well being causes,” Blanquer mentioned.  “It is within the disaster that you just present your true values and what’s actually vital for us is faculty. That is why this disaster is usually a (large) problem for all of us as a result of there’s a variety of inconvenience for the long run but it surely’s additionally a chance to be extra acutely aware of what’s actually vital.”

This technique is mirrored in Macron’s choice to carry off on a strict lockdown at the beginning of 2021. He mentioned the nation wanted to contemplate the influence on psychological well being and the financial system in devising a balanced response to the third wave.

However between January and March, the worry of catching Covid-19 turned a part of faculty life for the two,400 pupils at Eugene Delacroix, some college students mentioned.  After shedding her father, Grace feared she would carry the virus dwelling.

“We weren’t apprehensive about catching it, however what if we caught it after which introduced it dwelling and handed it on to a cousin or nephew? You’d really feel horrible although it could not be your fault,” she mentioned. 

A handwritten placard reading "Campus = Virus" at Eugene Delacroix high school.

Maëlle Benzimera, 17, who attends Eugene Delacroix and lives at dwelling along with her mother and father, brother and sister, mentioned she was additionally anxious about contaminating her family members.  

“I do know that if I catch the virus, I can be a little bit bit sick, however I will not be sick sufficient to go to the hospital. Whereas if my mother and father or grandparents have the virus, I do know that they may die or may go to the hospital,” Benzimera mentioned. “I have been actually scared since September.” 

Vaccines for lecturers

It wasn’t till April — when confronted with hovering infections, the rampant unfold of the variant first detected within the UK and warnings from hospitals they could need to triage sufferers — that Macron introduced a partial lockdown throughout France. 

The President additionally ordered colleges to shut for 3 to 4 weeks, basically extending the Easter holidays. An infection charges amongst these aged beneath 20 dropped nationwide within the following weeks, based on figures from the well being ministry.

Officers now say they’re doing every part of their energy so colleges can reopen safely, together with rolling out saliva-based testing and vaccines for lecturers over 55 — which accounts for less than 16% of all lecturers, based on well being ministry figures. Main colleges and kindergartens reopened on April 26 and excessive colleges and center colleges on Might 3. 

Greater than 15 million individuals have obtained at the very least one dose of a vaccine, about 29% of France’s grownup inhabitants, based on the well being ministry. Macron vowed “a particular technique” can be applied for lecturers to get vaccinated in April, however these beneath 55 will not get precedence till June. 

France risks 'losing control' over Covid-19 spread without stricter national measures -- Macron

Some epidemiologists and scientists have questioned the federal government’s coverage of protecting colleges open as transmission charges elevated.

They pointed to the truth that kids had been clearly a vector for transmission and that closing lessons when a optimistic case emerged was not sufficient. To cease the unfold, your complete faculty wanted to be shut down.

Epidemiologist Catherine Hill argues that with out large-scale testing, there isn’t any manner of realizing the extent of Covid-19 transmission in colleges. 

“It is like making an attempt to empty your bathtub with a strainer. It does not work. That is by no means an answer,” Hill defined. “You shut down the lessons the place there’s one optimistic youngster, however the different children can grow to be optimistic any time so you would need to do it once more, and in the event you do 250,000 children per week out of a inhabitants of 6.6 million [in primary schools], you are going nowhere.”

With about 5,000 individuals at the moment being handled in Covid-19 ICUs throughout the nation, lecturers imagine a return to highschool will solely imply one factor: An infection charges will choose up – and they’re nonetheless not protected. 

Blanquer admits that the scenario in colleges “has not been good,” however says that finally giving kids an training is a long-term purpose that the federal government wasn’t able to compromise on.  

Antonella Francini contributed to this report.

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