France’s teachers’ unions call for strike against government COVID-19 rule changes

The majority of France’s education unions are urging teachers and school staff to strike on Thursday in protest of the government’s change of COVID-19 policy in schools.

One of France’s largest education unions, SNUIPP-FSU, said it expects to hit 75% leading to the closure of about half of schools.

The union called it a “historic mobilization,” adding that it was not a strike against the virus but a reflection of the growing anger in schools.

Parents and teachers learned last week that students in classes where someone has a case of COVID-19 must be tested three times a week in order to keep the class open.

There are currently more than 300,000 new COVID-19 infections per day in France, the highest number of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.

It’s because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant and has resulted in tens of thousands of classrooms being closed due to COVID.

Vaccination has only recently been opened to young children, and less than 1% of those under 11 years of age have been fully vaccinated.

Education unions are demanding that school staff and students be provided with surgical masks and respirators in addition to self-exams. They also urged the government to postpone the baccalaureate until June due to the health crisis.

The government said on Tuesday that more than 10,000 classrooms have been closed, which is about 2% of primary school classes, but their goal is to keep schools open.

Ahead of the education strike, Prime Minister Jan Castex said the rules would be simplified, noting that there would be free self-tests available in pharmacies and that three self-tests were enough for contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in schools.

“It is not as if we are in a normal period, we are in an acute crisis,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on television. He said people shouldn’t beat the virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic comes as France prepares for a presidential election in April with many candidates from both the left and the right supporting teachers who are striking against the government.

Managing COVID-19 infections in schools has been a challenge throughout the pandemic, with the World Health Organization’s European regional director saying this week that schools should be the last to close.

“Keeping schools open has important benefits for children’s mental, social and educational well-being,” said Hans Kluge. “Schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen.”

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