“I told him I loved him, and I would always do my best,” 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, at the peak of the first wave in France. 

Grace’s world was shattered. She advised NCS she dreaded going again to 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 school she remembered. But for Grace — who didn’t need her final identify printed to guard her household — nothing was the similar.

She frightened the different college students would deal with her otherwise, and was stunned when one in every of her classmates confided in her that she too had lost her father to Covid-19.

In all, no less than 20 college students from her high school, Eugene Delacroix, in close by Drancy, lost a relative to the virus in 2020, in response to the city corridor.

Nothing suggests these deaths had been attributable to infections at the school. But NCS has spoken with college students at Eugene Delacroix who say they share a frequent burden: The worry of bringing Covid-19 dwelling and infecting a loved one.  

Eugene Delacroix high school in Drancy, a suburb northeast of Paris, where at least 20 pupils have lost a relative to Covid-19.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

Aside from a transient closure close to the begin of the pandemic, France has made its open faculties coverage a level of satisfaction in the identify of each reopening the financial system and delivering a social service, with some mother and father counting on school meals to feed their youngsters.

The authorities’s said conviction is that the advantages of opening faculties far outweigh the value. 

“Let’s not forget what makes us proud. No other country in the European Union has left its schools open as much as France has,” France’s European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, tweeted this past March, a day earlier than Italy shuttered its faculties once more attributable to rising infections. 
France has solely closed its faculties for a whole of 10 weeks since the starting of the pandemic — one in every of the lowest charges in Europe, according 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 surgeDoctors warn Paris ICUs could be overwhelmed by Covid-19 surge

During the first wave of the pandemic final spring, the authorities shuttered faculties in March, earlier than progressively reopening them in May and June.

“We need the children to go back to class because there’s a danger they’ll be left behind, learning gaps will appear and educational inequalities are exacerbated,” French President Emmanuel Macron told journalists throughout a go to to a school in a suburb northwest of Paris in May final yr.
In September, it turned obligatory for the more than 12 million schoolchildren in France to return to class. Those aged 11 and over needed to put on masks, classrooms 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 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 classrooms full of 30 youngsters, stated the restrictions had been unattainable to implement at the begin of the school yr. Windows would not open, she stated, some youngsters eliminated their masks, they lacked cleansing workers and there was hardly any testing for the virus. 

“France may be exceptional in that they’ve kept the schools open at all costs, but they have not been exceptional in funding the schools so that they can do that safely,” Brown stated.

Despite Brown’s pleas and each day worry of going into the constructing, she stated little was achieved by way of protecting measures; complaints she and different lecturers finally made to school officers in January fell on deaf ears. 

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

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer advised NCS he acknowledged that the insurance policies put in place weren’t excellent.

Calls for closures

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, most children were being taught from home after the authorities imposed a nationwide lockdown and faculties had been closed as the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first recognized in that nation, raged.

When that variant made its manner over to France and its faculties, the “Stylos Rouge” (Red Pens) grassroots motion, made up of 72,000 training staff, sued Blanquer. In March they accused him of failing to guard educating workers in shut contact with youngsters “who spread 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. 

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

The teachers’ union sent an open letter to Macron and Blanquer decrying the present state of affairs and calling for the “immediate and temporary closure of the high school.” 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 in 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.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 NCS. He stated he made a selection in favor of the youngsters and their future. 

“It was necessary for children to go to school, not only because of the education and learning, but also for interactions with others and for psychological and health reasons,” Blanquer stated.  “It’s in the crisis that you show your true values and what is really important for us is school. That’s why this crisis can be a (huge) challenge for all of us because there is a lot of inconvenience for the future but it’s also an opportunity to be more conscious of what is really important.”

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

But between January and March, the worry of catching Covid-19 turned a part of school life for the 2,400 pupils at Eugene Delacroix, some college students stated.  After shedding her father, Grace feared she would convey the virus dwelling.

(*20*) she stated. 

A handwritten placard reading "Campus = Virus" at Eugene Delacroix high school.A handwritten placard reading "Campus = Virus" at Eugene Delacroix high school.

Maëlle Benzimera, 17, who attends Eugene Delacroix and lives at dwelling together with her mother and father, brother and sister, stated she was additionally anxious about contaminating her loved ones.  

“I know that if I catch the virus, I will be a little bit sick, but I won’t be sick enough to go to the hospital. Whereas if my parents or grandparents have the virus, I know that they could die or could go to the hospital,” Benzimera stated. “I’ve been really scared since September.” 

Vaccines for lecturers

It wasn’t till April — when confronted with hovering infections, the rampant unfold of the variant first detected in 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, primarily extending the Easter holidays. Infection charges amongst these aged beneath 20 dropped nationwide in the following weeks, in response to figures from the well being ministry.

Officials now say they’re doing the whole lot 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. Primary faculties and kindergartens reopened on April 26 and high faculties and center faculties on May 3. 

More than 15 million folks have acquired no less than one dose of a vaccine, about 29% of France’s grownup inhabitants, in response to the well being ministry. Macron vowed “a specific strategy” could be carried out for lecturers to get vaccinated in April, however these beneath 55 will not get precedence till June. 

France risks 'losing control' over Covid-19 spread without stricter national measures -- MacronFrance risks 'losing control' over Covid-19 spread without stricter national measures -- Macron

Some epidemiologists and scientists have questioned the authorities’s coverage of holding faculties open as transmission charges elevated.

They pointed to the proven fact that youngsters had been clearly a vector for transmission and that closing lessons when a optimistic case emerged was not sufficient. To cease the unfold, the whole school wanted to be shut down.

Epidemiologist Catherine Hill argues that with out large-scale testing, there isn’t any manner of understanding the stage of Covid-19 transmission in faculties. 

“It’s like trying to empty your bathtub with a strainer. It doesn’t work. That’s not at all a solution,” Hill defined. “You close down the classes where there is one positive child, but the other kids can become positive any time so you would have to do it again, and if you do 250,000 kids per week out of a population of 6.6 million [in primary schools], you’re going nowhere.”

With about 5,000 folks at present being handled in Covid-19 ICUs throughout the nation, lecturers imagine a return to school will solely imply one factor: Infection charges will decide up – and they’re nonetheless not protected. 

Blanquer admits that the state of affairs in faculties “has not been perfect,” however says that in the end giving youngsters an training is a long-term purpose that the authorities wasn’t able to compromise on.  

Antonella Francini contributed to this report.



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