Teachers across France staged a one-day strike on Thursday to protest a change in Covid testing rules that they say has disrupted classrooms and are now too lax in protection against the Omicron variant that has been riven across the country.
Several teachers’ unions have also planned protest marches, and one of the largest is expected to start in Paris on Thursday afternoon. The Education Ministry said nearly 40 percent of primary school teachers and nearly a quarter of secondary school teachers went on strike, although unions put those numbers much higher.
The ministry did not say how many schools were closed today, but one of the largest unions said it expected to close about half of primary schools due to the strike.
The suspension measure, backed by most of the country’s teaching unions, has posed a serious challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which is proud to keep its schools open longer than many other European countries during the pandemic.
“I basically think that the choice we made to keep schools open is the right one,” Macron said at a press conference on Tuesday.
But the policies put in place to keep schools open have come at a price. The government has put in place complex testing rules designed to spare entire classes from being sent home or entire schools having to close due to a small number of positive cases. Then officials changed the rules twice within days, confusing millions of parents and teachers. Testing protocols led to angry parents standing in the cold outside pharmacies and medical laboratories.
To fend off a growing wave of anger, Prime Minister Jan Castex said on Monday that protocols would be relaxed. Parents will no longer have to pick up their children immediately after a classmate has tested positive, and children exposed to screening in pharmacies and labs no longer have to return to class. Alternatively, the tests can be done at home.
But teachers said the simplified rules increased the risk of infection at school. They have also complained for weeks about a lack of equipment such as air quality monitors and a lack of highly protective masks.
“They opened the doors of the schools wide for Omicron and the King could not take care of the faculty,” a union of school administrators wrote on twitter On Monday after Mr. Castex’s announcement.
The average number of new coronavirus cases in France is now around 300,000 a day, nearly six times what it was a month ago, and much more than at any time earlier in the pandemic. Olivier Veran, the country’s health minister, said on Thursday that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Mr. Ferran, who has been fully vaccinated, He said on Twitter He will isolate himself and work remotely.
A surge in COVID-19 cases has closed more than 10,000 classrooms in France, and tens of thousands of students are currently infected, according to French authorities.
The strike, which was planned earlier in the week, “shows the growing desperation in schools,” the leading union of primary school employees, Snuipp-FSU, said in a statement on Tuesday. “The current protocol not only fails to protect students, staff and their families, but also completely disrupts schools,” the statement read.
Although teacher strikes are common in France, they don’t often unite as many unions as they did on Thursday. A major union of fathers has also called on fathers to walk hand in hand with teachers.