French teachers strike against 'chaotic' school strategy COVID-19 | Coronavirus pandemic News - Market News
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French teachers strike against ‘chaotic’ school strategy COVID-19 | Coronavirus pandemic News

French teachers strike against 'chaotic' school strategy COVID-19 |  Coronavirus pandemic News

Tens of thousands of French teachers angry at the government’s COVID-19 rules have quit their jobs and took to the streets to demand better protection for students and staff from infection.

Teachers, parents and school principals have struggled with the pandemic and the many twists and turns in school COVID rules. New testing requirements, announced on the eve of the return of the Christmas holidays and amended twice since, fueled the anger.

“We had reached such a level of exasperation, fatigue and anger that we had no choice but to organize a strike to send a strong signal to the government,” said Elisabeth Allain-Moreno, national secretary of the SE. UNSA teachers union.

The anger was felt at protest rallies across France, with many calling for the resignation of Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

“The [health] protocol mutates faster than the virus,” a poster read at a rally in the southern city of Nice.

A government source said it was unlikely that Blanquer would lose his job three months before the presidential election. However, Prime Minister Jean Castex will meet with teachers’ representatives later on Thursday, his office said.

Several left-wing candidates in April’s presidential election, including socialist Anne Hidalgo, whose platform includes doubling teachers’ salaries, and left-wing Jean-Luc Melenchon, took part in the protest in Paris.

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, who reports from Paris, said protesters believe the rules introduced are too complex and unmanageable.

“They say the restrictions put them at even more risk of the virus in the classroom than in previous months … at a time when the virus is so widespread in France,” Butler said.

“We have a record number of new COVID-19 infections in France almost every day. They want simpler, clearer rules. They want more time to take any new measures; they say right now, that just isn’t happening. They also want things like more masks, more protective measures.”

‘Sick of’

Some schools were closed on Thursday due to the strike, others were open only to children of health workers, while several were operating normally.

Unions said large numbers of teachers — including about 75 percent in primary schools and 62 percent in secondary schools — had joined the one-day strike. The Ministry of Education figures were much lower, at 38.5 percent in primary schools and just under 24 percent in secondary schools.

A joint statement by 11 unions blamed the government for what it called a “chaotic situation” due to “incessant changes in the fundamentals, unworkable protocols and the lack of appropriate tools to [schools] can function properly”.

The government stuck to its policy of keeping classrooms open and required all students who came into contact with an infected person to undergo three tests. One complication is the price to pay to keep schools open, it said.

“I know it’s tough, but a strike won’t solve any problems. You don’t strike against a virus,” Blanquer told BFM TV.

The number of infections in schools has soared as France set records with nearly 370,000 new cases daily, prompting families to rush to get their children tested.

“My children and I, we are tired of being tested every other day,” said Corinne Courvoisier, the mother of seven-year-old twins who had attended the protest rally in Nice.

“We started testing Nelson and Elsa on Friday because there was a suspicion of a positive COVID-19 test in Nelson’s class, so Friday, then Sunday, then Tuesday, and then yesterday we got a letter from the principal that there was another suspicious case in Elsa’s class… We’ll never see the end of it.’