Macron hit by fresh strike hell: Angry French teachers stage mass walkout over Covid chaos

Macron criticised for ‘snubbing’ France in favour of EU

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The walk-outs triggered the closure of many primary schools across the country. One teaching union had warned that three-quarters of primary school teaching staff would strike over the French government’s handling of coronavirus measures in the education sector. Estimates from unions also suggested almost two-thirds of secondary school staff would not turn up to teach on Thursday.

However, the French education ministry gave much lower estimates of striking staff, putting just under two in five teachers absent from primary schools and less than a quarter failing to show in secondary schools.

Elisabeth Allain-Moreno, national secretary of the SE-UNSA teachers union, said: “We had reached such a level of exasperation, tiredness, and anger that we didn’t have any other option but to organise a strike to send a strong message to the government.”

Laurent Berger, secretary-general of the CFDT union, added that teaching staff had been treated with “disdain” and not given any advance notice of COVID-19 protocols in schools before they came into force.

He added: “This is not a strike against the virus, it’s a strike against the lack of consultation.”

The unions denounced the “growing frustration in schools” that has led to “this historic mobilisation”, adding that “not only does the current protocol fail to protect students, staff and their families, but it also completely disorganises schools.

“Thus, contrary to repeated government assertions, it is not the school that is open but a form of ‘day care’.”

The SNUipp-FSU union added: “Under the current conditions, pupils cannot learn properly, as their numbers fluctuate greatly and hybrid teaching between classroom and distance learning is impossible to implement.”

The strike was supported by the parents’ federation in France, which has asked parents of school-age children not to send their kids to school on Thursday in support of the strike.

Children who cannot stay at home are still protected in France – there is a requirement for all children to have a place to go, free of charge, during typical school hours.

If more than a quarter of teachers in a school are on strike at one time, a “minimum reception service” must be provided by the municipality.

French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, has previously admitted that the government’s bungling of COVID-19 protection measures in schools was poor, but his acknowledgment of teachers’ anger did little to resolve the issue.

He said on Monday: “I have heard the concerns expressed by parents, teachers and school headmasters.”

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He announced a change in guidelines for schools: “We are going to proceed with a certain number of simplifications: our objective is to keep schools open as much as possible.”

He detailed new guidelines focused on home testing, with children over the age of six required to wear masks at school.

Parents will no longer have to immediately collect their child if they test positive at school, with Mr Castex clarifying that “when a positive case is tested in a class (…) all the other children are asked to be tested.

“In these cases, parents will not be asked to pick up their child immediately, but will be asked to wait until after school.”

He added that for those children who are contacts of a COVID-19 case, three free self-tests will be available, rather than the more stringent previous rules around contact testing.

Children will only need to show a single certificate of a negative result from the three tests, rather than one for each negative test.

He said: “We will ask for a certificate once and for all to simplify the life of parents and teachers.”

This will come into force on Friday.

French President Emmanuel Macron has reiterated that he backed France’s decision to keep schools open during the vast majority of the pandemic.

He said: “I fundamentally believe the choice that we made to keep schools open is the right choice.”

However, schools remaining open in the country have been complicated by the spread of the more transmissible Omicron variant.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.

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