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France kept classrooms open ‘at all costs.’ Some say the price was too high

“I told him I loved him, and I would always do my best,” Grace mentioned.   

This can 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, at the peak of the first 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 onerous by the pandemic, final September.

When she returned, it was nonetheless the college she remembered. But for Grace — who didn’t need her final title revealed to guard her household — nothing was the identical.

She apprehensive the different college students would deal with her in another way, and was stunned when considered one of her classmates confided in her that she too had misplaced her father to Covid-19.

In all, at the least 20 college students from her high college, Eugene Delacroix, in close by Drancy, misplaced a relative to the virus in 2020, in response to the city corridor.

Nothing suggests these deaths had been attributable to infections at the college. But CNN has spoken with college students at Eugene Delacroix who say they share a typical burden: The worry of bringing Covid-19 house and infecting a beloved 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

Aside from a short closure close to the begin of the pandemic, France has made its open colleges coverage some extent of pleasure in the title of each reopening the economic system and delivering a social service, with some mother and father counting on college meals to feed their kids.

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

“Let’s not forget what makes us proud. No other country in the European Union has left its schools open as much as France has,” France’s European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, tweeted this past 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 since the starting of the pandemic — considered one of the lowest charges in Europe, in response to 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

During the first wave of the pandemic final spring, the authorities shuttered colleges in March, earlier than steadily reopening them in May and June.

“We need the children to go back to class because there’s a danger they’ll be left behind, learning gaps will appear and educational inequalities are exacerbated,” French President Emmanuel Macron advised journalists throughout a go to to a faculty in a suburb northwest of Paris in May final yr.
In September, it turned necessary for the greater than 12 million schoolchildren in France to return to class. Those aged 11 and over needed to put on masks, classrooms wanted to be ventilated and social distancing was imposed in corridors and canteens. 

Not all colleges had 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 classrooms full of 30 kids, mentioned the restrictions had been inconceivable to implement at the begin of the college yr. 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 may be exceptional in that they’ve kept the schools open at all costs, but they have not been exceptional in funding the schools so that they can do that safely,” Brown mentioned.

Despite Brown’s pleas and day by day worry of going into the constructing, she mentioned little was carried out when it comes to protecting measures; complaints she and different lecturers finally 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. 

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer advised CNN he acknowledged that the insurance policies put in place weren’t good.

Calls for closures

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, most kids had been being taught from house after the authorities imposed a nationwide lockdown and colleges had been closed as 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” (Red Pens) grassroots motion, made up of 72,000 schooling employees, sued Blanquer. In March they accused him of failing to guard instructing workers in shut contact with kids “who spread the virus.” 

And nowhere was that unfold felt extra acutely than in Seine-Saint Denis, then the worst-hit area in France, in response to the well being ministry. 

At the peak 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 lecturers examined optimistic for Covid-19, in response to the lecturers’ union. The authorities’s coverage had been that three college students wanted to check optimistic earlier than a category needed to quarantine. That was reduce down to 1 scholar by March 2021. 

The lecturers’ union despatched an open letter to Macron and Blanquer decrying the present scenario and calling for the “immediate and temporary closure of the high school.” 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 in 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 kids and their future. 

“It was necessary for children to go to school, not only because of the education and learning, but also for interactions with others and for psychological and health reasons,” Blanquer mentioned.  “It’s in the crisis that you show your true values and what is really important for us is school. That’s why this crisis can be a (huge) challenge for all of us because there is a lot of inconvenience for the future but it’s also an opportunity to be more conscious of what is really important.”

This technique is mirrored in Macron’s choice to carry off on a strict lockdown at the begin 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.

But between January and March, the worry of catching Covid-19 turned a part of college life for the 2,400 pupils at Eugene Delacroix, some college students mentioned.  After shedding her father, Grace feared she would carry the virus house.

“We weren’t worried about catching it, but what if we caught it and then brought it home and passed it on to a cousin or nephew? You’d feel terrible even though it would 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 house along with her mother and father, brother and sister, mentioned she was additionally anxious about contaminating her family members.  

“I know that if I catch the virus, I will be a little bit sick, but I won’t be sick enough to go to the hospital. Whereas if my parents or grandparents have the virus, I know that they could die or could go to the hospital,” Benzimera mentioned. “I’ve been really scared since September.” 

Vaccines for lecturers

It wasn’t till April — when confronted with hovering infections, the rampant unfold of the variant first detected in the UK and warnings from hospitals they could should triage sufferers — that Macron introduced a partial lockdown throughout France. 

The President additionally ordered colleges to shut for 3 to 4 weeks, primarily extending the Easter holidays. Infection charges amongst these aged below 20 dropped nationwide in the following weeks, in response to figures from the well being ministry.

Officials 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 lecturers over 55 — which accounts for under 16% of all lecturers, in response to well being ministry figures. Primary colleges and kindergartens reopened on April 26 and high colleges and center colleges on May 3. 

More than 15 million folks have obtained at the least one dose of a vaccine, about 29% of France’s grownup inhabitants, in response to the well being ministry. Macron vowed “a specific strategy” can be applied for lecturers to get vaccinated in April, however these below 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 authorities’s coverage of retaining colleges open as transmission charges elevated.

They pointed to the indisputable fact that kids had 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 no manner of realizing the stage of Covid-19 transmission in colleges. 

“It’s like trying to empty your bathtub with a strainer. It doesn’t work. That’s not at all a solution,” Hill defined. “You close down the classes where there is one positive child, but the other kids can become positive any time so you would have to do it again, and if you do 250,000 kids per week out of a population of 6.6 million [in primary schools], you’re going nowhere.”

With about 5,000 folks at the moment being handled in Covid-19 ICUs throughout the nation, lecturers imagine a return to highschool will solely imply one factor: Infection charges will choose up – and they’re nonetheless not protected. 

Blanquer admits that the scenario in colleges “has not been perfect,” however says that finally giving kids an schooling is a long-term purpose that the authorities wasn’t able to compromise on.  

Antonella Francini contributed to this report.

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Monday, May 17, 2021
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