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School return: Advice from French scientific advisors

Obligatory masks for secondary school pupils (collège and lycée), the regular cleaning of schools throughout the day and strict adherence to the health barrier rules by keeping pupils a metre apart are the main recommendations of the Covid-19 Scientific Advisory body to the government, for a progressive return to school when de-confinement begins on May 11.

The Conseil Scientifique has said it would prefer for schools to remain closed until September but this weekend, in the light of what it says is a “political decision,” members outlined the measures they consider essential for the safest possible return.

Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer has said the recommendations will be the “reference for all those involved in preparing the rentrée.”

The details are expected to be given tomorrow afternoon, when Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presents his deconfinement plan to parliament at 15:00.

The main recommendations are:

-              Families should have the choice to keep their children at home.

-              Testing will not be possible for everyone as it concerns 14 million people and would have to be repeated regularly (every 5-7 days) to make it effective.

-              Masks designed for public use should be worn by all adult staff, and by pupils at collège and lycée, but only in primary schools if the age of the child allows. During meals, when masks cannot be worn, everyone should sit a metre apart.

-              Classrooms and communal areas as well as objects such as door handles and light switches should be cleaned several times a day with suitable products.

-              There should be enough water, liquid soap and paper towels so that each adult and pupil in the school can wash their hands at least once before lessons begin, before and after school meals. Hand sanitiser could be used in collège and lycée but the Conseil Scientifique think it would be too dangerous in primary school (children might swallow some or get it in their eyes)

-              There should be at least one metre between each pupil in all areas of the school, though the Conseil Scientifique realises this would be extremely difficult for some classes, particularly in nursery (maternelle).

The school should think of a way to make this possible which could involve children coming in every other day, every other week, either mornings or afternoons etc. to reduce numbers. They do not suggest how many children at a time, though the Education Minister has said there should be just 15 in a class.

-              The school should also work out a system so that one class or age group never mixes with another one, by staggering school hours and recreation times so that if a pupil is infected, only the age group he or she comes from will have to be shut down.

-              They suggest that if possible, children should eat in their classroom and not in the canteen.

-              The beginning and end of the day should be organised to avoid a gathering of parents and children at the school gates, perhaps by staggering the times for each class.

-              Parents would not be allowed inside the school grounds.

-              The same distancing rules should apply in school transport, so more buses should be laid on to make this possible.

-              Pre-school and after-school clubs should be carefully organised as it is here that different age groups will mix.

-              Any pupil who shows symptoms will have to be sent home immediately. The teacher or school nurse could take their temperature.

-              Parents could take their children’s temperature before and after school and if there are any symptoms should keep the child at home and contact their doctor to see if a test is necessary.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has already announced that schools will reopen under strict conditions, staggered over a period of weeks.

On April 21 he suggested that Grande section (age 5), CP (age 6) and CM2 (age 10) would resume on May 11 with a limit of just 15 pupils per class to ensure social distancing; followed by terminale (age 17), première (16), sixième (11) and troisième (14) classes and vocational courses on May 18; and all remaining classes a week later.

Teachers, mayors, who are responsible for the running of primary schools, and parents have all expressed concerns about the return to school.

In one survey two thirds of parents said they were opposed to the re-opening of schools.

Teachers and local authorities say they are waiting for more details from the government tomorrow, before they can begin to plan exactly how to put measures in place.

Speaking on public service media FranceInfo this morning, the President of the Association of Small Towns in France, Chistophe Nouillon said mayors are impatient to have the details as between now and May 11 there are only 6 working days to put plans in place, as the period includes two bank holidays: “Mayors have been trying to prepare, but up to now it has been mission impossible. Why? Because each time we ask a school head or education inspector, they tell us “Wait, we can’t tell you anything, because we’re waiting for national instructions.”

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