new health rules, teachers on the alert

From Tuesday, September 1, students in middle and high school will return to the classrooms. While the coronavirus epidemic is recovering in France, some teachers are wondering about the conditions for this unique re-entry, marked by a tightening of the health protocol.

In France, the number of coronavirus infections has increased for several weeks, but the school year begins on Tuesday 1 September. The Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, confirming that “education is more important than ever”, assured, on Thursday 20 August, that students will be welcomed every day in class. He also announced that the beginning of the school year would be marked by stricter health rules, especially when it comes to wearing a mask.

In the past, this was mandatory when physical distance could not be respected, from now on the mask must be worn by adults and students over eleven years old, in closed places, even if physical distance is ensured. In outdoor spaces, this rule will be developed according to “local estimates”, the minister said.

The mask will be provided by the schools to the teachers, the students must get it themselves.

Possibility to remove the mask under condition

The minister said that teachers will be able to remove the mask to teach in the event of two meters from the students. The latest version of the health protocol mentioned a distance of one meter. “If it disrupts the course, there is this possibility. Wearing a mask can be a limitation for teachers, especially when they have to talk for hours,” said Jean-Michel Blanquer.

In closed spaces (dining rooms, libraries or classrooms), physical distance is no longer mandatory when it is “not physically possible or when it does not accommodate all students”. The same principle applies in outdoor rooms, for example on the playground.

According to the protocol, however, the space must be rearranged in order to “maintain the greatest possible distance between the students”.

Despite this intervention, university teachers and upper secondary school teachers are wondering about the conditions for the new school year. Following these announcements, Benoît Teste, general secretary of FSU, condemned at LCI “a lot of vagueness for the organization” for returning to school. “Many things are not ready and are not clear,” he added. Several days before Jean-Michel Blanquer’s statement, the SNUIPP-FSU union, the first organization in primary school, had asked a postponement of the beginning of the school year for a few days so that teachers can prepare for it. A request was rejected by the Minister.

Professors in search of clarification

Since the announcement of these main orientations, teachers have become impatient. “We have no information about the beginning of the school year, apart from what the Minister said [de l’Éducation nationale] said TV, “laments Caroline Louet, professor of history and geography at Paul-Louis Courier High School, in Tours, Indre-et-Loire, contacted by France 24.

Lack of communication was also condemned by Sullivan Caristan, professor of French at Jean-Jaurès University in Saint-Ouen, Seine-Saint-Denis. “I am worried and imagine the stress we will experience in the face of this lack of visibility and this lack of clear instructions,” he complains. “We get the most important goals but not the instructions for use”, adds this teacher, interviewed by France 24.

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If all students will be present in class, it will be difficult for these teachers to imagine their classes again, in the context of epidemic recovery. “Students change places because since the school reform they have been divided into different special groups,” explains Caroline Louet, who fears “a mixture of students”.

Inevitable physical contact

Outside classrooms, restrictive physical contact can be difficult to implement. “In the corridors, the students move and bump into each other,” describes this teacher, who should accommodate about thirty high school students in each class.

With so many students in the classroom, respect for hand hygiene will also be a challenge to address, especially when it comes to resources. Sullivan Caristan, for example, believes that “there are not enough toilets” in his facility and that “they are not in good condition”. Caroline Louet, for her part, fears “a waste of time” if students have to wash their hands at the beginning and end of each class.

Teachers must also accustom their students to wearing the obligatory mask. “It will be difficult to get you to hear and understand student interventions,” specifies Caroline Louet. An even more problematic limitation during lessons in foreign languages. “To learn pronunciation in Spanish, the mask will not be ideal, especially for those just starting out,” says Clémence Garcia, a Spanish teacher at Les Plaisances College in Mantes-la-Ville, Yvelines, contacted by France 24.

“Students must go back to school”

For these teachers, their students’ return to class is a relief. “I have students who experience social and family difficulties. I therefore prefer that they be as many as possible in my classes rather than being at home,” explains Sullivan Caristan. “Students have to resume lessons because many were left out of confinement,” Clémence Garcia said.

After the beginning of the school year, these student reception conditions could change. “If there was a greater circulation of the virus in the coming times in a certain territory, we could take other measures, such as distance education, or with a small presence with smaller groups of students,” warned the Minister of Education. On August 26, Jean-Michel Blanquer would again talk about the organization of the beginning of the school year. An intervention expected by the anxious teachers a few days before the classes resumed.