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

2021-05-04 09:30:17

“I instructed him I liked him, and I’d at all times do my greatest,” Grace mentioned.   

This is able to 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 12 months, on the peak of the primary wave in France. 

Grace’s world was shattered. She instructed CNN she dreaded going again to high school in Seine-Saint-Denis, a suburb northeast of Paris that was hit onerous 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 anxious the opposite college students would deal with her in a different way, and was shocked when one among her classmates confided in her that she too had misplaced her father to Covid-19.

In all, not less than 20 college students from her highschool, Eugene Delacroix, in close by Drancy, misplaced a relative to the virus in 2020, in line with the city corridor.

Nothing suggests these deaths have been attributable to 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 liked one.  

Eugene Delacroix high school in Drancy, a suburb northeast of Paris, where at least 20 pupils have lost a relative to Covid-19.

Open colleges coverage

Other than a short closure close to the beginning of the pandemic, France has made its open colleges coverage some extent of delight within the identify of each reopening the economic system and delivering a social service, with some mother and father counting on faculty meals to feed their kids.

The federal government’s acknowledged conviction is that the advantages of opening colleges far outweigh the price. 

“Let’s not neglect 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 resulting from rising infections. 
France has solely closed its colleges for a complete of 10 weeks for the reason that starting of the pandemic — one of many lowest charges in Europe, in line with 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 step by step reopening them in Could and June.

“We’d like the youngsters 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 instructed journalists throughout a go to to a college in a suburb northwest of Paris in Could final 12 months.
In September, it grew to become 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 have 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 have been unimaginable to implement initially of the college 12 months. 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 stored the colleges open in any respect prices, however they haven’t been distinctive in funding the colleges in order that they’ll do this safely,” Brown mentioned.

Regardless of Brown’s pleas and each day worry of going into the constructing, she mentioned little was completed when it comes to protecting measures; complaints she and different academics ultimately made to high school 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 instructed CNN he acknowledged that the insurance policies put in place weren’t excellent.

Requires closures

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

When that variant made its means over to France and its colleges, the “Stylos Rouge” (Pink Pens) grassroots motion, made up of 72,000 schooling staff, sued Blanquer. In March they accused him of failing to guard instructing 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, in line with 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 courses needed to shut after college students and academics examined optimistic for Covid-19, in line with the academics’ 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 lower down to 1 pupil by March 2021. 

The academics’ union despatched an open letter to Macron and Blanquer decrying the present scenario and calling for the “speedy and short-term 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 selection in favor of the youngsters and their future. 

“It was mandatory for youngsters to go to high school, not solely due to the schooling 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 simply 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 may be lots of inconvenience for the long run but it surely’s additionally a possibility to be extra aware of what’s actually vital.”

This technique is mirrored in Macron’s determination to carry off on a strict lockdown initially of 2021. He mentioned the nation wanted to contemplate the affect on psychological well being and the economic system in devising a balanced response to the third wave.

However between January and March, the worry of catching Covid-19 grew to become 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 convey the virus dwelling.

“We weren’t anxious 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 regardless that it will 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 together 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 will likely be somewhat 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 academics

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 might must 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, in line with figures from the well being ministry.

Officers now say they’re doing all the pieces of their energy so colleges can reopen safely, together with rolling out saliva-based testing and vaccines for academics over 55 — which accounts for under 16% of all academics, in line with well being ministry figures. Main colleges and kindergartens reopened on April 26 and excessive colleges and center colleges on Could 3. 

Greater than 15 million individuals have obtained not less than one dose of a vaccine, about 29% of France’s grownup inhabitants, in line with the well being ministry. Macron vowed “a particular technique” can be carried out for academics 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 maintaining colleges open as transmission charges elevated.

They pointed to the truth that kids have been clearly a vector for transmission and that closing courses 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 means of understanding 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 courses the place there may be one optimistic little one, however the different youngsters can turn into optimistic any time so you would need to do it once more, and in the event you do 250,000 youngsters per week out of a inhabitants of 6.6 million [in primary schools], you are going nowhere.”

With about 5,000 individuals presently being handled in Covid-19 ICUs throughout the nation, academics consider a return to high school will solely imply one factor: An infection charges will decide up – and they’re nonetheless not protected. 

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

Antonella Francini contributed to this report.

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