Masks mandatory in French schools for la rentrée

French school will open with obligatory attendance as usual on September 1, despite safety fears as Covid-19 cases continue to rise. Mandatory masks will be provided for teachers but not for students.

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Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer ruled out a delay of a physical return to school this September in an interview yesterday evening (August 20).

The minister said: “Education is not a modifiable variable for our societies or for a health crisis”.

His comments came in response to worries expressed by teachers, unions and parents over returning to school while Covid-19 cases are rising in France.

Masks to be mandatory in schools

Speaking to public news provider France 2Mr Blanquer said schools would reopen with the aim of providing “protection for all and education for all”.

As such, “systemic” mask-wearing will be in place for adults and students aged 11 and over.

Students will be required to wear masks “as soon as they are in closed spaces”.

Adults will also have to wear masks inside, even during classes when physical distancing measures can be respected.

The only exception to this rule is for maternelle teachers (working with students aged 3-5) for whom mask-wearing is “recommended but not mandatory”.

The minister said the decision not to enforce mask wearing for students aged under 11 was taken based on advice from scientists. For this age group, he said, advice suggested that wearing masks was “counterproductive" because the children tend to take them off quickly.

Rules about wearing masks in outside areas in schools are to be decided by “local assessments”.

Masks part of student supplies 'like a pencil case'

Mr Blanquer said teachers’ masks will be provided and paid for by the state, as they are for other public servants.

However most students will have to provide their own masks.

Mr Blanquer justified this decision saying protective coverings for students should be considered “supplies like any others. One comes to school with a pencil case or notebooks, and from now on, washable masks”.

He added, in the “most extreme” cases masks may be provided for students.

The allocation de rentrée scolaire, a back-to-school grant for all eligible families with school-aged children, has also risen by €100 this year, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read more: What is France's back-to-school grant, and how much is it?

Procedures in place in case of Covid-19 outbreak

The minister also revealed a plan of action for schools in case a student or teacher contracts Covid-19.

He said: “We will immediately test the rest of the class and the school, and from there will establish a chain of contamination.” If necessary, class or school closures could be initiated.

While the national return to school is set for September 1, the minister also allowed that there could be some local exceptions, depending on the health situation, “at the level of one school, an establishment, or even a whole area”.

Cases still rising in France

Figures released by Santé Publique France on August 20 show there were 4,700 cases in France in the previous 24 hours. This figure is the highest seen since deconfinement began in France in mid-May.

In the previous seven days, 18,638 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in France. The rate of positivity from all tests taken is now up to 3.3%, from 3.1% on Wednesday.

However, the number of Covid-19 related hospitalisations has gone down to 4,748, compared with over 4,800 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The number of patients with Covid-19 in intensive care has also remained stable. Six patients have been admitted in France in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 380.

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