Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

Tens of thousands of French teachers, angry at the government’s COVID-19 rules, walked away from work and took to the streets to demand better protection for pupils and staff against infection.

Teachers, parents and school principals have struggled to deal with the pandemic and the many twists and turns on COVID rules at the school. New test requirements, announced on the eve of the return of the Christmas holidays and changed twice since then, have fused anger.

“We have reached such a level of dismay, fatigue and anger that we had no option but to arrange a strike to send a strong message to the government,” said Elisabeth Allain-Moreno, national secretary of the SE- UNSA teachers union.

The uproar was felt in protest rallies across France, where many demanded that Jean-Michel Blanquer, Minister of Education, resign.

“The [health] protocol mutates faster than the virus, ”read one poster during a rally in the southern city of Nice.

A government source said it was unlikely Blanquer would lose his job three months before the presidential election. However, Prime Minister Jean Castex will meet with teachers’ representatives later on Thursday, his office said.

Several left-wing candidates in April’s presidential election, including socialist Anne Hidalgo, whose platform includes doubling teachers’ salaries, and hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, took part in the Paris protests.

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, who reports from Paris, said protesters believed the rules imposed were too complicated and unmanageable.

“They say the restrictions put them even more at risk for the virus in the classroom than in previous months … at a time when the virus is circulating so widely in France,” Butler said.

“We have almost daily record new COVID-19 infection rates in France. They want simpler, clearer rules. They want more time to be able to put any new measures in place; they say at the moment, it just does not happen. They also want things like more masks, more protective measures. ”

‘Fed up’

Some schools were closed on Thursday due to the strike, others were only open to children of health workers while a number functioned normally.

Trade unions said large numbers of teachers – including about 75 percent in primary schools and 62 percent in high schools – joined the one-day strike. The Ministry of Education’s figures were much lower, 38.5 per cent in primary schools, and just under 24 per cent in high schools.

A joint statement by 11 unions blamed the government for what it called a “chaotic situation” due to “incessant changes of foundation, unworkable protocols and the lack of appropriate tools to guarantee [schools] can function properly ”.

The government has adhered to its policy of keeping classes open and requires all pupils in contact with an infected person to be tested three times. a degree of complication is the price to pay to keep schools open, it said.

“I know it is difficult, but a strike does not solve problems. “One does not attack a virus,” Blanquer told BFM TV.

Infections have increased in schools as France has set records with nearly 370,000 new daily cases, leaving families struggling to get their children tested.

“My children and I are fed up with being tested every other day,” said Corinne Courvoisier, the mother of seven-year-old twins, who joined the protest rally in Nice.

“We started testing for Nelson and Elsa on Friday because there was a suspicion of a positive COVID-19 test in Nelson’s class, so on Friday, then on Sunday, then on Tuesday, and then yesterday we received a letter from the director sent that another is suspected. case in Elsa’s class… We never see the end of it. ”

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