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

2021-05-04 14:06:18

“I advised him I liked him, and I’d all the time 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 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 varsity she remembered. However for Grace — who didn’t need her final identify printed to guard her household — nothing was the identical.

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

In all, no less than 20 college students from her highschool, Eugene Delacroix, in close by Drancy, misplaced a relative to the virus in 2020, in keeping with the city corridor.

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

Apart from a short closure close to the beginning of the pandemic, France has made its open colleges coverage a degree of delight within the identify of each reopening the economic system and delivering a social service, with some dad and mom counting on college meals to feed their youngsters.

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

In the course of 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 will be left behind, studying gaps will seem and academic inequalities are exacerbated,” French President Emmanuel Macron advised journalists throughout a go to to a faculty in a suburb northwest of Paris in Could 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, lecture 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 lecture rooms full of 30 youngsters, mentioned the restrictions have been not possible to implement at the beginning of the varsity yr. Home windows would not open, she mentioned, some youngsters eliminated their masks, they lacked cleansing employees 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 will try this safely,” Brown mentioned.

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

CNN contacted the Creteil college 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 excellent.

Requires closures

In the meantime in the UK, most youngsters have been being taught from residence 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 manner over to France and its colleges, the “Stylos Rouge” (Purple Pens) grassroots motion, made up of 72,000 schooling employees, sued Blanquer. In March they accused him of failing to guard educating employees in shut contact with youngsters “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 keeping with the well being ministry. 

On the top of the third wave, as virus instances started to spike at Eugene Delacroix, a complete of twenty-two courses needed to shut after college students and lecturers examined optimistic for Covid-19, in keeping with 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 minimize down to 1 pupil by March 2021. 

The lecturers’ union despatched an open letter to Macron and Blanquer decrying the present state of affairs and calling for the “instant 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 alternative in favor of the youngsters and their future. 

“It was mandatory for kids to go to highschool, not solely due to the schooling and studying, but additionally 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 necessary for us is college. That is why this disaster generally is a (big) problem for all of us as a result of there’s loads of inconvenience for the longer term nevertheless it’s additionally a possibility to be extra aware of what’s actually necessary.”

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 impression 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 turned a part of college life for the two,400 pupils at Eugene Delacroix, some college students mentioned.  After dropping her father, Grace feared she would carry the virus residence.

“We weren’t frightened about catching it, however what if we caught it after which introduced it residence and handed it on to a cousin or nephew? You’d really feel horrible though 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 residence together with her dad and mom, brother and sister, mentioned she was additionally anxious about contaminating her family members.  

“I do know that if I catch the virus, I will probably be somewhat bit sick, however I will not be sick sufficient to go to the hospital. Whereas if my dad and mom or grandparents have the virus, I do know that they might die or might 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, in keeping with figures from the well being ministry.

Officers now say they’re doing every thing of their energy so colleges can reopen safely, together with rolling out saliva-based testing and vaccines for lecturers over 55 — which accounts for under 16% of all lecturers, in keeping 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 no less than one dose of a vaccine, about 29% of France’s grownup inhabitants, in keeping with the well being ministry. Macron vowed “a particular technique” could 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 conserving colleges open as transmission charges elevated.

They pointed to the truth that youngsters have been clearly a vector for transmission and that closing courses when a optimistic case emerged was not sufficient. To cease the unfold, the complete college wanted to be shut down.

Epidemiologist Catherine Hill argues that with out large-scale testing, there is not any manner of figuring out the extent of Covid-19 transmission in colleges. 

“It is like attempting to empty your bathtub with a strainer. It would not work. That is under no circumstances an answer,” Hill defined. “You shut down the courses the place there’s one optimistic baby, however the different youngsters can change into optimistic any time so you would need to do it once more, and should 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 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 state of affairs in colleges “has not been excellent,” however says that finally giving youngsters an schooling is a long-term objective that the federal government wasn’t able to compromise on.  

Antonella Francini contributed to this report.

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