France

France saved school rooms open ‘in any respect prices.’ At a college the place 20 pupils misplaced family members, some say the worth was too excessive

“I advised him I beloved him, and I might all the time do my greatest,” Grace stated.   

This could be the final promise she ever made to her father, as he lay intubated in an ICU unit for Covid-19 sufferers. He died the following day, on April 9 of final 12 months, on the peak of the primary wave in France. 

Grace’s world was shattered. She advised CNN she dreaded going again to high school in Seine-Saint-Denis, a suburb northeast of Paris that was hit onerous by the pandemic, final September.

When she returned, it was nonetheless the varsity she remembered. However for Grace — who didn’t need her final identify printed to guard her household — nothing was the identical.

She anxious the opposite college students would deal with her otherwise, and was stunned when considered one of her classmates confided in her that she too had misplaced her father to Covid-19.

In all, at the least 20 college students from her highschool, Eugene Delacroix, in close by Drancy, misplaced a relative to the virus in 2020, in response to the city corridor.

Nothing suggests these deaths have been attributable to infections on the faculty. However CNN has spoken with college students at Eugene Delacroix who say they share a standard burden: The worry of bringing Covid-19 residence and infecting a beloved one.  

Eugene Delacroix high school in Drancy, a suburb northeast of Paris, where at least 20 pupils have lost a relative to Covid-19.

Open faculties coverage

Other than a short closure close to the beginning of the pandemic, France has made its open faculties coverage some extent of pleasure within the identify of each reopening the economic system and delivering a social service, with some dad and mom counting on faculty meals to feed their youngsters.

The federal government’s acknowledged conviction is that the advantages of opening faculties far outweigh the associated fee. 

“Let’s not overlook what makes us proud. No different nation within the European Union has left its faculties open as a lot as France has,” France’s European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, tweeted this previous March, a day earlier than Italy shuttered its faculties once more attributable to rising infections. 
France has solely closed its faculties for a complete of 10 weeks for the reason that starting of the pandemic — one of many lowest charges in Europe, in response to figures from UNESCO, in comparison with 35 weeks for Italy, 28 for Germany and 27 weeks for the UK. 
Doctors warn Paris ICUs could be overwhelmed by Covid-19 surge

In the course of the first wave of the pandemic final spring, the federal government shuttered faculties in March, earlier than progressively reopening them in Could and June.

“We’d like the youngsters to return to class as a result of there is a hazard they’re going to be left behind, studying gaps will seem and academic inequalities are exacerbated,” French President Emmanuel Macron advised journalists throughout a go to to a faculty in a suburb northwest of Paris in Could final 12 months.
In September, it grew to become necessary for the greater than 12 million schoolchildren in France to return to class. These aged 11 and over needed to put on masks, school rooms wanted to be ventilated and social distancing was imposed in corridors and canteens. 

Not all faculties have been in a position to respect the security protocols, particularly these in poor neighborhoods.

Colleen Brown teaches English at Eugene Delacroix high school. She says French classrooms have been kept open "at all costs" during much of the coronavirus pandemic.

Colleen Brown, who teaches English at Eugene Delacroix to school rooms full of 30 youngsters, stated the restrictions have been unattainable to implement at the beginning of the varsity 12 months. Home windows would not open, she stated, some youngsters eliminated their masks, they lacked cleansing workers and there was hardly any testing for the virus. 

“France could also be distinctive in that they’ve saved the faculties open in any respect prices, however they haven’t been distinctive in funding the faculties in order that they’ll try this safely,” Brown stated.

Regardless of Brown’s pleas and day by day worry of going into the constructing, she stated little was executed by way of protecting measures; complaints she and different academics ultimately made to high school officers in January fell on deaf ears. 

CNN contacted the Creteil faculty board, which oversees Eugene Delacroix, however has not obtained a response. 

Schooling Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer advised CNN he acknowledged that the insurance policies put in place weren’t good.

Requires closures

In the meantime in the UK, most youngsters have been being taught from residence after the federal government imposed a nationwide lockdown and faculties have been closed because the extra contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first recognized in that nation, raged.

When that variant made its manner over to France and its faculties, the “Stylos Rouge” (Crimson Pens) grassroots motion, made up of 72,000 training employees, sued Blanquer. In March they accused him of failing to guard educating workers in shut contact with youngsters “who unfold the virus.” 

And nowhere was that unfold felt extra acutely than in Seine-Saint Denis, then the worst-hit area in France, in response to the well being ministry. 

On the peak of the third wave, as virus instances started to spike at Eugene Delacroix, a complete of twenty-two lessons needed to shut after college students and academics examined optimistic for Covid-19, in response to the academics’ union. The federal government’s coverage had been that three college students wanted to check optimistic earlier than a category needed to quarantine. That was minimize down to 1 scholar by March 2021. 

The academics’ union despatched an open letter to Macron and Blanquer decrying the present state of affairs and calling for the “fast and non permanent closure of the highschool.” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who’s eyeing a bid for the presidency in 2022, echoed their name and requested for faculties throughout the capital to shut to rein within the unfold of the virus, however no motion was taken. 
An empty classroom at the Saint-Exupery school in the Paris suburb of La Courneuve. France has closed its schools for a total of 10 weeks since the beginning of the pandemic -- far less than many other European countries.

Blanquer defended his open faculties coverage to CNN. He stated he made a selection in favor of the youngsters and their future. 

“It was vital for youngsters to go to high school, not solely due to the training and studying, but additionally for interactions with others and for psychological and well being causes,” Blanquer stated.  “It is within the disaster that you simply present your true values and what’s actually vital for us is faculty. That is why this disaster is usually a (enormous) problem for all of us as a result of there’s quite a lot of inconvenience for the longer term nevertheless it’s additionally a possibility to be extra acutely aware of what’s actually vital.”

This technique is mirrored in Macron’s resolution to carry off on a strict lockdown at the beginning of 2021. He stated the nation wanted to think about the impression on psychological well being and the economic system in devising a balanced response to the third wave.

However between January and March, the worry of catching Covid-19 grew to become a part of faculty life for the two,400 pupils at Eugene Delacroix, some college students stated.  After dropping her father, Grace feared she would carry the virus residence.

“We weren’t anxious about catching it, however what if we caught it after which introduced it residence and handed it on to a cousin or nephew? You’d really feel horrible although it could not be your fault,” she stated. 

A handwritten placard reading "Campus = Virus" at Eugene Delacroix high school.

Maëlle Benzimera, 17, who attends Eugene Delacroix and lives at residence together with her dad and mom, brother and sister, stated she was additionally anxious about contaminating her family members.  

“I do know that if I catch the virus, I shall be slightly bit sick, however I will not be sick sufficient to go to the hospital. Whereas if my dad and mom or grandparents have the virus, I do know that they might die or may go to the hospital,” Benzimera stated. “I have been actually scared since September.” 

Vaccines for academics

It wasn’t till April — when confronted with hovering infections, the rampant unfold of the variant first detected within the UK and warnings from hospitals they might need to triage sufferers — that Macron introduced a partial lockdown throughout France. 

The President additionally ordered faculties to shut for 3 to 4 weeks, basically extending the Easter holidays. An infection charges amongst these aged underneath 20 dropped nationwide within the following weeks, in response to figures from the well being ministry.

Officers now say they’re doing every thing of their energy so faculties can reopen safely, together with rolling out saliva-based testing and vaccines for academics over 55 — which accounts for less than 16% of all academics, in response to well being ministry figures. Major faculties and kindergartens reopened on April 26 and excessive faculties and center faculties on Could 3. 

Greater than 15 million folks have obtained at the least one dose of a vaccine, about 29% of France’s grownup inhabitants, in response to the well being ministry. Macron vowed “a selected technique” could be applied for academics to get vaccinated in April, however these underneath 55 will not get precedence till June. 

France risks 'losing control' over Covid-19 spread without stricter national measures -- Macron

Some epidemiologists and scientists have questioned the federal government’s coverage of preserving faculties open as transmission charges elevated.

They pointed to the truth that youngsters have been clearly a vector for transmission and that closing lessons when a optimistic case emerged was not sufficient. To cease the unfold, your complete faculty wanted to be shut down.

Epidemiologist Catherine Hill argues that with out large-scale testing, there is no manner of understanding the extent of Covid-19 transmission in faculties. 

“It is like making an attempt to empty your bathtub with a strainer. It does not work. That is by no means an answer,” Hill defined. “You shut down the lessons the place there’s one optimistic baby, however the different youngsters can develop into optimistic any time so you would need to do it once more, and if you happen to do 250,000 youngsters per week out of a inhabitants of 6.6 million [in primary schools], you are going nowhere.”

With about 5,000 folks presently being handled in Covid-19 ICUs throughout the nation, academics consider a return to high school will solely imply one factor: An infection charges will choose up – and they’re nonetheless not protected. 

Blanquer admits that the state of affairs in faculties “has not been good,” however says that finally giving youngsters an training is a long-term objective that the federal government wasn’t able to compromise on.  

Antonella Francini contributed to this report.

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