Back to school: Guide to Covid rules for parents and pupils in France

We explain the Covid-19 protocol in place for schools this coming academic year, including when classes will close if a pupil tests positive, when masks must be worn and when social distancing rules will be in effect

26 August 2021

There is a four-tier Covid rules system in place in France. All schools in metropolitan France will begin on level 2 for the upcoming academic year Pic: Nito / Shutterstock

By Thomas Brent

France’s education ministry has put in place a strategy that it states is designed to maximise the amount of time that in-person teaching can take place, while minimising the spread of Covid-19.

The ministry has set up a four-tier system to do this, with different rules for mask-wearing, playing sports, and social distancing at each level. 

All schools in metropolitan France will begin on level 2, or the yellow rating, for the coming academic year, which starts on September 2.

The levels are:

Level 1 / green

Level 2  / yellow

Level 3 / orange

Level 4 / red

The below protocol is either general or specific to level 2 rules. To see an outline of the rules for all the other levels, see our quick-guide graphic at the end of the article.

Health pass (pass sanitaire)

A Covid health pass will not be required to enter schools for pupils, parents, or teachers.

Class closures

Nursery (maternelle) and primary school (école élémentaire) 3-10 years old:

Children under 12 years of age cannot be vaccinated against Covid-19. This means that if one pupil in the class tests positive for Covid, the whole class will be closed for seven days. 

Secondary school (collège 11-14 years old and Lycée 14-16 years old):

Any pupil who tests positive for Covid will have to stay home for a period of seven days. 

For the other pupils in the class or who have been identified as having been in close contact with the pupil who tests positive, the situation varies depending on whether they have been vaccinated:

  • Any pupil who has been vaccinated against Covid or who has had Covid in the past two months will be able to continue his or her classes in person. Parents / guardians will have to provide a letter / note stating that their child has been vaccinated. A person’s vaccination status can be verified by France’s insurance service Assurance maladie
  • Any pupil who is not fully vaccinated must stay home for a period of seven days and continue his or her classes remotely. 

There is an exception for pupils in 6ème (year 7), as the children in this year are often not yet 12 years old. This means that if one of the pupils in the class tests positive for Covid-19, the whole class will be closed for seven days. 

Sports and physical activities

Level 2 / yellow level: Physical and sporting activities are to be carried out normally outdoors. 

When indoor activities are necessary (bad weather, availability of facilities, etc.), pupils must maintain a two-metre distance between themselves.

Washing hands

The school protocol states that hand washing is essential for pupils. 

It should consist of washing all parts of the hands with soap and water for 30 seconds. 

Drying should be done carefully, using a disposable paper towel if possible.

Hydroalcoholic gel can be used as an alternative. 

Hand washing should be done under close supervision of an adult for primary school children.

All pupils should wash their hands at the following times: 

  • On arrival at school
  • Before and after each meal
  • Before and after break or lunch
  • After going to the toilet
  • In the evening before going home or upon arrival at home

Handwashing at sinks can be done without measuring physical distance between pupils in the same class or group.

Masks 

Children in nursery schools do not need to wear masks. 

Mask-wearing is required for all primary and secondary school pupils when indoors. When outdoors, they should follow the rules in place for the wider public.

They should wear a category 1 mask with a filtration of over 90%. This includes most shop-bought masks or disposable surgical masks.

Read more: What facemask should I wear?

School protocol states that it is up to the parents or guardians to provide their children with masks. 

France’s education ministry provides all schools with a supply of masks that can be given out to pupils who do not have one. 

When pupils are not wearing their masks (when outside or doing sports, etc.), they should be hung up individually and in an isolated place, or folded (not rolled) and placed in a dedicated pouch or bag. 

Arrival and pupils moving around

The arrival and departure of pupils from and to school may be staggered. This organisation obviously depends on the number of pupils enrolled, the staff present and the possibilities of adapting school transport, including that of pupils with disabilities.

The movement of pupils within schools should be limited, organised and supervised as much as is possible. For this reason, it is recommended that each class be allocated its own room (apart from specialised rooms and workshops).

Breaks and lunches will be organised by group, starting from level 2 / yellow level. 

Social distancing

In nursery schools, there is no need for distancing between pupils in the same group (class, group of classes or levels), whether in enclosed spaces (classroom, corridors, etc.) or in outdoor spaces.

In primary school and secondary school, pupils should aim to maintain a distance between each other of at least one metre in indoor spaces (where possible). 

This does not apply to outdoor spaces between pupils in the same class or group. 

Between levels 2 - 4, social distancing must be maintained between pupils of different classes or groups. 

Lunch / food

The school should attempt to organise for the pupils to eat in the same groups and at the same tables each day. 

School outings

From September 30, pupils aged 12 and over will need to present a Covid health pass in places where both schools and the public are present (e.g. museums).

A health pass is not required in places where a time slot has been reserved exclusively for school use (e.g. swimming pools).

The education ministry has not yet commented on the fact that Covid tests will soon cost money, potentially altering the principle of equality at school. 

Communication

Each school should have a detailed plan to communicate the spread of Covid-19 in the school to parents, pupils and staff. 

Parents/guardians

Parents/guardians should be kept informed of:

  • Conditions at the school and the measures taken in relation to Covid-19
  • Their role in respecting barrier gestures, such as washing hands and social distancing
  • Their role in monitoring their children for symptoms of Covid-19 - their temperature must be below 38°C
  • The need to declare if their child tests positive for Covid-19 or anyone in their household tests positive for Covid-19
  • The procedure to follow if their child or another pupil in their child’s class or social group tests positive for Covid-19
  • The organisation for dropping off and picking up their children

Pic: Education.gouv.fr / Screenshot

You can read the government’s Covid-19 protocol for the coming academic year at this link here (in French). 

Related stories:

Teacher in France: 'Great to get back to school despite Covid rules'

Covid rules for return to school in France 'unclear' say unions

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