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 instructed him I cherished him, and I’d all the time do my finest,” 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 subsequent day, on April 9 of final yr, on the peak of the primary wave in France. 

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

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

She nervous the opposite college students would deal with her in a different way, and was shocked when certainly one of her classmates confided in her that she too had misplaced her father to Covid-19.

In all, a minimum of 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 had 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 cherished 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 quick closure close to the beginning of the pandemic, France has made its open faculties coverage some extent of satisfaction within the title of each reopening the financial system and delivering a social service, with some dad and mom counting on faculty 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 neglect 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 as a result of rising infections. 
France has solely closed its faculties for a complete of 10 weeks because the 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

Through the first wave of the pandemic final spring, the federal government shuttered faculties in March, earlier than regularly reopening them in Might and June.

“We want 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 instructed journalists throughout a go to to a college in a suburb northwest of Paris in Might final yr.
In September, it turned 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 capable of 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 kids, stated the restrictions had been not possible to implement at first of the college yr. Home windows would not open, she stated, some kids 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 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 stated.

Regardless of Brown’s pleas and each day worry of going into the constructing, she stated little was carried out when it comes to protecting measures; complaints she and different lecturers ultimately made to highschool officers in January fell on deaf ears. 

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

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

Requires closures

In the meantime in the UK, most kids had been being taught from residence 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 method over to France and its faculties, the “Stylos Rouge” (Crimson Pens) grassroots motion, made up of 72,000 training staff, sued Blanquer. In March they accused him of failing to guard instructing workers 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 response to the well being ministry. 

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

The lecturers’ union despatched an open letter to Macron and Blanquer decrying the present scenario and calling for the “speedy 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. 
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 alternative in favor of the youngsters and their future. 

“It was crucial for kids to go to highschool, not solely due to the training and studying, but in addition for interactions with others and for psychological and well being causes,” Blanquer stated.  “It is within the disaster that you just present your true values and what’s actually essential for us is faculty. That is why this disaster could be a (enormous) problem for all of us as a result of there’s numerous inconvenience for the long run nevertheless it’s additionally a chance to be extra acutely aware of what’s actually essential.”

This technique is mirrored in Macron’s resolution to carry off on a strict lockdown at first of 2021. He stated the nation wanted to contemplate the affect on psychological well being and the financial system in devising a balanced response to the third wave.

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

“We weren’t nervous 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 despite the fact that 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 will probably be a bit 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 lecturers

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 need to triage sufferers — that Macron introduced a partial lockdown throughout France. 

The President additionally ordered faculties to shut for 3 to 4 weeks, primarily 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 little thing of their energy so faculties can reopen safely, together with rolling out saliva-based testing and vaccines for lecturers over 55 — which accounts for less than 16% of all lecturers, in response to well being ministry figures. Major faculties and kindergartens reopened on April 26 and excessive faculties and center faculties on Might 3. 

Greater than 15 million individuals have acquired a minimum of 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 lecturers 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 maintaining faculties open as transmission charges elevated.

They pointed to the truth that kids had been clearly a vector for transmission and that closing lessons when a constructive 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 not any method of figuring out 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 under no circumstances an answer,” Hill defined. “You shut down the lessons the place there’s one constructive baby, however the different youngsters can grow to be constructive any time so you would need to do it once more, and should you 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 individuals at the moment being handled in Covid-19 ICUs throughout the nation, lecturers imagine a return to highschool will solely imply one factor: An infection charges will choose up – and they’re nonetheless not protected. 

Blanquer admits that the scenario in faculties “has not been good,” however says that in the end giving kids an training is a long-term purpose that the federal government wasn’t able to compromise on.  

Antonella Francini contributed to this report.

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