France: Schools closed as teachers strike against COVID regulations

PARIS (Parliament Politics Magazine): Teachers are staging a nationwide walkout across France in protest of the government’s handling of the coronavirus issue.

Despite a recent rise in Covid-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant, French officials have made keeping schools open a priority.

Teachers claim that Covid’s school policies are perplexing and continuously changing.

On Thursday, about 24% of secondary teachers and 40% of primary teachers walked out, according to the government.

Teachers marched to the streets in towns throughout France on Thursday to protest against the government’s Covid regulations.

 The national secretary of the SE-UNSA teachers union, Elisabeth Allain-Moreno said that they were extremely frustrated, fatigued, and angry and didn’t have any choice but to call a strike with the intention of sending a strong message to the government.

Some parents expressed sympathy for the teachers who had walked off the job and that they had no bitter feelings toward them.

“Classes are too huge, they don’t get paid enough, their working conditions aren’t the best,” a father, Akim Aouchiche, told the AFP news agency outside a school in north-east Paris.

The government and Jean-Michel Blanquer, Education Minister, were blamed by the unions for what they described as a “chaotic situation” in schools.

France’s health protocol, which has been altered several times since December, was the main catalyst for the walkout.

Students who were exposed to a Covid case, were required to do an antigen or PCR test and then self-test two and then four days later to continue courses in person, according to rules issued on January 2nd, a day before the start of the new school year.

As the number of coronavirus infections increased, the regulation change put a huge strain on testing capacity, with long lines forming outside pharmacies.

In response to the overwhelming demand, the government  relaxed the regulations for student Covid checks this week.

In case a classmate tests positive, children will be allowed to undertake self-tests instead of a PCR, according to French Prime Minister Jean Castex.

However, the easing has raised concerns about teacher safety, since France reported 368,149 new cases on Tuesday, a new high.

The unions claim that the government’s lack of communication, frequent testing changes, and inadequate protection from Covid have rendered teachers unable to teach effectively.

The government, on the other hand, defended its policies, claiming that they are important to keep the schools open.

The education minister,Mr Blanquer, told BFM TV that he understood how difficult it was but a strike wouldn’t fix things. “A virus does not respond to a strike ”  

The strike occurs at a politically inconvenient time for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is likely to run for re-election in April.

Mr Macron’s opponents have taken advantage of the strike to criticise him.

Valerie Pecresse, conservative candidate, told French TV, “I feel the enormous pain both of the school community and especially of parents.”