Since the beginning of the pandemic, French teachers have denounced poor management of the health crisis by the Government in schools, due to the lack of staff and material. The arrival of Ómicron was the straw that broke the camel’s back: in the face of the multitude of cases and the ensuing chaos in the classrooms, the National Education unions have called for a day of strike next Thursday, January 13.
The health crisis due to Covid-19 has highlighted the limits of the French educational system. After the first confinement in March 2020, the leitmotif of the Government, in the mouth of its Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer, has always been: “Schools will never close again.” This position of the Executive is regularly criticized by educational teams, who denounce a lack of resources to face the pandemic and a manifest contempt for teachers.
The return to classes after the Christmas holidays, on January 3, had the consequences that were feared: with the Omicron variant, contaminations in the classrooms have become uncontrolled, and both teachers and children fall ill from Covid-19. For many parents and teachers, successive health protocols only add confusion to an already chaotic situation.
In this context, the unions (seven from the public sector and four from the private sector, one from National Education inspectors and one from nurses) have called for a national strike this Thursday, January 13. They blame the Ministry of Education for an “indescribable disorder” and express a feeling of abandonment and anger.
In the different communications, the claims include the return to the previous health protocol, greater protection of staff and students, and the expansion of the hiring of permanent replacements.
The teachers say they are exhausted by a sanitary protocol that changes very often, being they warned of the changes by means of the press and at the last minute, which they live as another sign of contempt. “We really feel alone in the epidemic. We are in the health protocol number 49, but they are becoming more and more inconsistent,” lamented Nathalie Faivre, representative of the SNES-FSU in the Doubs, eastern department of the country, on the channel ‘France 3 ‘.
Until this Tuesday, the protocol provided that, in the case of a positive student in a class, the others should immediately undergo a PCR or antigen test, followed by two self-tests. Starting this January 11, they will have to carry out a simple self-test, which will be repeated in D + 2 and D + 4, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced yesterday.
Most of the unions ask that the old protocol be returned, that is, the closure of the class for a week as soon as a positive case appears.
Protection teams and hiring of replacements
Equipped with cloth masks that have since been deemed ineffective, teachers are now demanding better protective equipment, such as surgical masks (even for students) or FFP2. They also ask for alcohol gel, CO2 sensors for better ventilation of the classrooms, as well as the hiring of school health personnel, which is scarce in the establishments.
In general, the unions highlight the lack of resources in education, something that is also affected by the lack of regular replacement personnel, which is not enough to cover all absences. They denounce that, to fill the gaps, the Government increasingly resorts to the specific hiring of retirees or unqualified and precarious personnel – as if everyone could be a teacher, they emphasize – instead of hiring people who have applied to contests and are on the waiting list.
In support of the teachers ‘strike, the Federation of Pupil Parents’ Councils (FCPE) announced a “white day”: in a statement, it asked all parents not to send their children to school on January 13. The FCPE took the opportunity to recall that the school “has suffered unprecedented budget restrictions for several years.”
“Like teachers, parents can no longer bear being subjected to changing protocols that are always too heavy for students and educational teams,” he added. The FCPE calls for more masks, soap, CO2 sensors and air purifiers in classrooms, as well as preventive salivary tests, “especially in gardens where children do not wear a mask.”
This article was originally published in RFI