French teachers strike over pandemic response

PARIS (AP), -- French teachers expressed anger at how the French government handled the pandemic in schools. They denounced confusing rules, and demanded more protection during a nationwide strike that took place on Thursday.

French teachers strike over pandemic response

Many teachers were exhausted by the rising COVID-19 case pressures. They responded to the 11 unions' call to protest the virus-linked class disruptions.

France is the epicenter for Europe's current battle against COVID-19. New infections have topped 360,000 per day this week. This was driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

On Thursday, Olivier Veran, Health Minister, announced via Twitter that he had tested positive for the virus. He was now self-isolating to allow him to continue his work.

After opposition lawmakers delayed implementation on a crucial measure mandating proof of vaccination to gain entry to restaurants, cultural and sports facilities, the teachers' strike places President Emmanuel Macron's government under increased pressure.

Teachers need clarifications about rules and additional protections such as extra masks or tests to relieve strain.

Lilia Larbi, an English teacher and SEUNA member, was one of the protestors in Paris' central area. She said that people are fed up with the school situation.

She stated that "the strike isn't against the virus, but it's against bad communications, changing rules...and the poor handling of the sanitary crises," and added that the government was "denying reality."

Larbi stated that she only taught three children to her class Wednesday as her colleagues had either been tested positive or are waiting for results. She said that she feels like she's babysitting rather than teaching.

Frederic Le Bihan, a Paris teacher, expressed his "exasperation" over the confusion between "orders and contraorders."

Authorities changed the rules for testing schoolchildren twice in a matter of weeks.

Le Bihan stated that teachers feel even more pressured by parents to follow government directives, which is "impossible".

Fatna Seghrouchni is a Paris teacher and member of Federation Sud Education union. She said that teachers are being asked to "do things without the means to do them".

Seghrouchni, like many others, was angry at Jean-Michel Blanquer, Education Minister, for announcing virus-related rules last-minute in a newspaper interview, rather than sending direct instructions to teachers.

Blanquer acknowledged that January was difficult for schools, with 50,000 COVID-19 cases discovered among students in recent days and over 10,000 classes being cancelled. These numbers are expected to rise in the coming weeks.

According to unions, 62%-75% of teachers supported the protest movement depending on where they are posted. According to the government, 27% of teachers are on strike.

The SNUIPP teacher union is calling for a reintroduction of a former rule that closed classes for a week if a child tested positive.

Teachers also demand better quality masks and more testing at schools. They also want devices in classrooms that warn when ventilation is needed.

This strike occurs on the same day that French senators approved a bill that requires adults to show proof of vaccination in order to be allowed to enter bars, restaurants, bars, theatres, museums, sports arenas, inter-regional trains, and cinemas. Negative tests can be given to children between 12 and 17.

After the legislation is approved by parliament, the measure will be in force sooner than expected.

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