Grace was stuffed with hope as she entered the ultimate stretch of highschool. The 16-year-old was two years away from graduating, and she or he needed to make her mother and father proud — particularly her father.
“I advised him I liked him, and I might at all times do my finest,” Grace mentioned.
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 subsequent 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 arduous by the pandemic, final September.
When she returned, it was nonetheless the varsity she remembered. However for Grace — who didn’t need her final title revealed to guard her household — nothing was the identical.
She anxious the opposite college students would deal with her in another way, and was stunned when one in all her classmates confided in her that she too had misplaced her father to Covid-19.
In all, at the very least 20 college students from her highschool, Eugene Delacroix, in close by Drancy, misplaced a relative to the virus in 2020, in keeping with the city corridor.
Nothing suggests these deaths had been brought on by infections on the college. However CNN has spoken with college students at Eugene Delacroix who say they share a standard burden: The worry of bringing Covid-19 dwelling and infecting a liked one.
Open faculties coverage
Except for a quick closure close to the beginning of the pandemic, France has made its open faculties coverage some extent of pleasure within the title of each reopening the economic system and delivering a social service, with some mother and father counting on college meals to feed their kids.
The federal government’s said conviction is that the advantages of opening faculties far outweigh the price.
“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 keeping with figures from UNESCO, in comparison with 35 weeks for Italy, 28 for Germany and 27 weeks for the UK.
Through the first wave of the pandemic final spring, the federal government shuttered faculties in March, earlier than step by step reopening them in Could and June.
“We want the kids to return to class as a result of there’s a hazard they’ll be left behind, studying gaps will seem and academic inequalities are exacerbated,” French President Emmanuel Macron advised journalists throughout a go to to a college in a suburb northwest of Paris in Could final 12 months.
In September, it grew to become obligatory 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 had been in a position to respect the protection protocols, particularly these in poor neighborhoods.
Colleen Brown, who teaches English at Eugene Delacroix to school rooms filled with 30 kids, mentioned the restrictions had been not possible to implement in the beginning of the varsity 12 months. Home windows wouldn’t open, she mentioned, some kids eliminated their masks, they lacked cleansing employees and there was hardly any testing for the virus.
“France could also be distinctive in that they’ve saved the colleges open in any respect prices, however they haven’t been distinctive in funding the colleges in order that they will do this safely,” Brown mentioned.
Regardless of Brown’s pleas and each day worry of going into the constructing, she mentioned little was completed 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 college board, which oversees Eugene Delacroix, however has not obtained a response.
Training Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer advised CNN he acknowledged that the insurance policies put in place weren’t good.
In the meantime in the UK, most kids had been being taught from dwelling after the federal government imposed a nationwide lockdown and faculties had been closed because the extra contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first recognized in that nation, raged.
When that variant made its means over to France and its faculties, the “Stylos Rouge” (Purple Pens) grassroots motion, made up of 72,000 training employees, sued Blanquer. In March they accused him of failing to guard educating employees in shut contact with kids “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 keeping with the well being ministry.
On the top of the third wave, as virus instances started to spike at Eugene Delacroix, a complete of twenty-two courses needed to shut after college students and academics examined optimistic for Covid-19, in keeping with 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 pupil 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 short-term 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.
Blanquer defended his open faculties coverage to CNN. He mentioned he made a alternative in favor of the kids and their future.
“It was mandatory for kids 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 mentioned. “It’s within the disaster that you just present your true values and what’s actually necessary for us is college. That’s why this disaster is usually a (enormous) problem for all of us as a result of there may be quite a lot of inconvenience for the longer term however it’s additionally a chance to be extra acutely aware of what’s actually necessary.”
This technique is mirrored in Macron’s resolution to carry off on a strict lockdown in the beginning of 2021. He mentioned the nation wanted to think about the affect 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 college life for the two,400 pupils at Eugene Delacroix, some college students mentioned. After dropping her father, Grace feared she would convey the virus dwelling.
“We weren’t anxious about catching it, however what if we caught it after which introduced it dwelling and handed it on to a cousin or nephew? You’d really feel horrible regardless that it might not be your fault,” she mentioned.
Maëlle Benzimera, 17, who attends Eugene Delacroix and lives at dwelling along with her mother and father, brother and sister, mentioned she was additionally anxious about contaminating her family members.
“I do know that if I catch the virus, I shall be a bit of bit sick, however I received’t be sick sufficient to go to the hospital. Whereas if my mother and father or grandparents have the virus, I do know that they may die or may go to the hospital,” Benzimera mentioned. “I’ve 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 could should 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 beneath 20 dropped nationwide within the following weeks, in keeping with figures from the well being ministry.
Officers now say they’re doing all the pieces 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 keeping with well being ministry figures. Main faculties and kindergartens reopened on April 26 and excessive faculties and center faculties on Could 3.
Greater than 15 million individuals have obtained at the very least one dose of a vaccine, about 29% of France’s grownup inhabitants, in keeping with the well being ministry. Macron vowed “a selected technique” can be applied for academics to get vaccinated in April, however these beneath 55 received’t get precedence till June.
Some epidemiologists and scientists have questioned the federal government’s coverage of maintaining faculties open as transmission charges elevated.
They pointed to the truth that kids had been clearly a vector for transmission and that closing courses when a optimistic case emerged was not sufficient. To cease the unfold, your complete college wanted to be shut down.
Epidemiologist Catherine Hill argues that with out large-scale testing, there’s no means of understanding the extent of Covid-19 transmission in faculties.
“It’s like attempting to empty your bathtub with a strainer. It doesn’t work. That’s by no means an answer,” Hill defined. “You shut down the courses the place there may be one optimistic little one, however the different children can turn into optimistic any time so you would need to do it once more, and if you happen to do 250,000 children per week out of a inhabitants of 6.6 million [in primary schools], you’re going nowhere.”
With about 5,000 individuals at present 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 decide 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 kids an training is a long-term objective that the federal government wasn’t able to compromise on.
Antonella Francini contributed to this report.