On January 13th, tens of thousands of teachers took to the streets across France to protest the new COVID-19 measures. The protests come as a response to the new protocol published by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer just one day prior to the start of the new school year. A second protest was organized and took place just a week later amidst rapidly climbing infection rates in the country.
According to one French teachers’ union, the first nation-wide one-day work strike was attended by 75 percent of elementary school teachers and 60 percent of secondary school teachers. They categorised it as “a chaotic situation”. The mayor of Paris reported that about 200 schools were closed on the day of the protest.
The teachers involved in the protests are expressing a variety of issues with the new covid rules and the French education system. Unions are claiming that the new measures are “beyond the commitments made by the prime minister and education minister” originally. Teachers are tired of the incessant changes in pandemic protocol, lack of personal protection equipment, and are demanding that the government commit to hiring as many substitute teachers as it takes to replace all teachers who must isolate due to exposure or illness.
Another major complaint is that the protocols are very disruptive to the learning environment, as students who test positive have to quarantine for 10 days and their fellow classmates are required to take three separate tests over the course of four days. Lastly, teachers are urging for a broader revaluation of investments made in the education system as they are paid significantly less than the OECD average.
In response to the backlash, the French government explained that “some degree of complication is the price to pay to keep schools open”. The government has also since committed to providing 5 million FFP2 face masks for school staff, as well as hiring more than 3000 substitute teachers to take the place of teachers who have to quarantine. With the upcoming presidential election in April, and Emmanel Macron’s possible reelection, it seems as though it is in the interest of the government to respond to the demands of the protestors.
Unions stated that there is another nationwide walkout planned for January 27th which is expected to be “massive”.