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French teachers go on strike to deal with COVID-19 pandemic

French teachers left a nationwide strike on Thursday to express their anger at the government’s handling of the virus situation in schools, denouncing muddled rules and calling for more protection.

Exhausted by the pressures of the surge in COVID-19 cases, a large majority of teachers were expected to support the call by 11 unions to protest against virus-related classroom disruptions and ever-changing isolation rules.

The unions organized a street demonstration in downtown Paris on Thursday afternoon.

Students attend the first day of school for the year 2021-2022 at Gounod Lavoisier Primary School, in Lille, northern France, on Thursday, September 2, 2021.
(AP Photo / Michel Spingler)

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France is at the epicenter of Europe’s current fight against COVID-19, with new infections exceeding 360,000 per day this week, driven by the highly contagious variant of omicron. Teachers are upset and want clarification on the rules and more protections, such as masks and extra tests to help relieve the tension.

“The month of January is hard (for schools)”, admitted the Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer on France 2. His ministry has counted 50,000 new cases of COVID-19 among students in the “last days” and a large number of classes closed due to the virus: 10,553. The numbers are expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

The unions estimated that 62 to 75% of teachers supported the protest movement, depending on the school in which they are assigned. The government said 27% of teachers were on strike.

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The teachers’ union SNUIPP says discontent is growing among French teachers. Since January 6, authorities have already imposed two changes to the rules on testing schoolchildren, leaving a lot of whiplash.

“The situation since the start of the January school year has created an indescribable mess and a strong sense of abandonment and anger among school staff,” the union said.

The SNUIPP calls for a return to a previous rule that interrupts classes for a week if a child tests positive.

Teachers are also demanding better quality masks, more testing in schools, and devices in classrooms that warn when ventilation is required.

The strike comes after French senators approved a bill requiring adults to provide proof of vaccination to enter restaurants and bars, cinemas, theaters, museums, sports arenas and interregional trains. Unvaccinated children between the ages of 12 and 17 may test negative.

The measure will enter into force after parliament approves the legislation by next week.

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