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Covid-19 Recovery

French children return to school for last few weeks of Covid-19 year

Children queue to enter their classrooms at the Ziegelau elementary school in Strasbourg, eastern France, after more than three months of class at home to fight against the spread of the coronavirus, 22 June 2020.
Children queue to enter their classrooms at the Ziegelau elementary school in Strasbourg, eastern France, after more than three months of class at home to fight against the spread of the coronavirus, 22 June 2020. AFP - FREDERICK FLORIN
4 min

Millions of French children have returned to school after more than three months at home due to coronavirus health restrictions. Attendance during the last few weeks before summer holidays, is compulsory at kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools, for students up to the age of 15.

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French schools closed on March 16, a day before the country’s nationwide lockdown began amid the Covid-19 crisis. Despite the easing that began in mid-May and included the gradual reopening of schools, many schoolchildren have not set foot on school grounds in three months.

“I cried with joy when I got the confirmation from the teacher that my two children would be going back to school full time,” Noémie from Nice told AFP.

According to the latest figures from the country’s education ministry, only 1.8 million primary school children, out of a total of 6.7 million, have returned to school – and most not on a full-time basis. The figures for collège, France’s middle schools, are 600,000 out of 3.3 million.

On June 14, President Emmanuel Macron announced that the return to school on June 22 would be “obligatory" and would conform to normal hours of attendance except for France’s lycées, or high schools.

The return to the classroom has followed the easing of a strict health protocol initially put in place for schools. Starting Monday, there are no longer any social distancing rules for kindergarten children within their class groups. In primary schools, a one-metre social distancing rule is recommended. In middle schools, when the one-metre distancing is not possible, students will be required to wear a mask.

On Sunday, government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye called on parents to “have confidence” in schools. “Everything is being done so that their children will be welcomed safely,” she said.

'Two weeks isn't nothing'

Last week, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, who had said he hoped for a full return to school before the summer holidays, said the aim was to see “the most pupils possible” return to school.

Depending on the school, a return on Monday represents eight or nine days of class before the summer break.

“Two weeks isn’t nothing, either in educational or psychological terms,” Blanquer said.

Despite a loosened protocol, some education unions have suggested there will be “reception problems in some places”.

“We are exhausted by this period of demands and counter-demands,” a school principal in Rennes told AFP.

Others, though, seem pleased.

”Even though more children are coming to school, restrictions are being relaxed,” another principal in Rennes said. “It will be okay, even though there is now also the whole back-to-school [in September] to prepare,” she added.

(with FRANCE 24, AFP)

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