Several French primary and secondary teacher and parent unions have called for strike action this Thursday (January 13) in protest against the government’s Covid-related school measures.
Seven teaching unions claim that the government’s approach is causing widespread disorganisation in schools, saying they are “exasperated” by the “unmanageable” Covid rules.
It comes as Prime Minister Jean Castex yesterday (January 10) announced three new measures aimed at simplifying these rules in an attempt to alleviate the pressure on teachers and parents but, at the time of writing, the strike is still due to go ahead.
What are teachers asking for?
Anabel Roy of Haute-Vienne’s SE-Unsa teachers’ union has criticised the current requirement for pupils to undergo a PCR or antigen test and then two further self-administered tests on day two and day four after a positive Covid case arises in their class.
“In practice, making sure that the children are tested every two days is very difficult,” she said. “We have no internal management tools in schools to know who has been tested [and] when.
“We have colleagues in tears spending their evenings sending messages to families to explain the new procedure to them,” added Stéphane Crochet, SE-Unsa’s secretary general.
Mr Castex has said that this testing requirement will be relaxed to allow for three self-administered tests only, but this will not necessarily make it simpler for teachers trying to keep track of their pupils’ progress through the testing regime.
Several unions have demanded a return to the old system, which involved closing a class as soon as a positive case was detected among the pupils.
However, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told BFMTV on Sunday that: “We have always said that that would be the last of the last resorts. We want our children to be able to go to school.”
Teaching unions are also asking for heightened hygiene measures in schools to help curb infections. Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on January 6 that the government would be providing teachers with surgical face masks until the end of the month, but unions say this is not sufficient.
They have called for more extensive testing regimes, CO2 monitoring and air purifiers in classrooms and cantines.
“The ministry must [also] expand the pool of supply teachers to respond to teacher absences,” some unions state.
What do parents want?
Parent union FCPE has asked parents not to send their children to school on Thursday to support the teachers’ strike.
The union’s co-president Nageate Belahcen told Franceinfo that “the moment has come to say ‘no’ to the health protocol. It is not adapted to the situation.
“We have just experienced a very chaotic return from the Christmas holidays. Teachers and parents are cracking.
“There is pressure on families who must collect their children and get them tested, with an hour and a half wait.”
Mr Castex’s announcement on the introduction of three free self-administered tests may help to solve this problem for parents.
“We are asking for surgical masks for pupils; families are currently having to set aside a budget for them,” Ms Belahcen added.
“We are asking either for priority [testing] slots for pupils and their families or saliva tests. Antigen tests are not simple with little ones, as you can imagine.”
Mr Castex has, however, rejected the idea of providing saliva tests for pupils.
Guislaine David, co-secretary general of the SNUipp-FSU teaching union has criticised the fact that Mr Castex made his announcements without consulting teaching bodies, and that the government has relaxed certain measures while case numbers continue to rise.
“Teachers were able to listen to the Prime Minister announcing yet another relaxation this evening, while we are asking for heightened hygiene measures in schools,” she said.
The call for strike action has therefore been maintained both by teaching unions and equivalent parent organisations.