MAYORS representing the Ile-de-France region, which includes the city of Paris, have called on President Emmanuel Macron to delay the reopening of schools until after May 11.
They have denounced the plan as a ‘forced march’ out of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
In an open letter to Macron published on the La Tribune website on Sunday, the group of greater Paris area mayors, including the French capital’s Anne Hidalgo, asked that the reopening of nurseries and schools be delayed until after May 11, arguing the deadline is ‘untenable and unrealistic’.
The 329 signatories to the letter say that they want more consultation and more time ‘to allow for the strict application of an equally stringent health protocol’ by May 11, when France begins phasing out a nationwide lockdown.
The mayors likened the calendar preparing the lockdown’s end to a ‘forced march’ carried through ‘even as we do not yet have all the information to ready the population, and the directives keep shifting,’ the mayors said.
They also criticised the government for failing to consult with the mayors on how to best reintegrate students and teachers back into schools.
The mayors’ letter said: ‘Many people still don’t have any information about the teachers who would be available for our schools, the number of extra-curricular activity animators who could be available, or even the number of pupils to be accommodated.’
It called on the government to ‘clearly prioritise the children who will be able/should be able to return to school taking into account the family context of each child.’
Opposition lawmakers and some experts have also questioned the practicalities of schools reopening in the greater Paris area, which has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus.
Several education unions have in recent days denounced the May 11 date for the reopening of schools as arbitrary, with the main SNUipp-FSU union complaining that it had not been approved by a medical authority.
FO (French union federation Force Ouvriere) opposes recovery at the cost of health, said a statement by the union last Saturday and has issued a strike notice.
It responded angrily to comments by the Minister of the Economy that that a maximum of children must return to school. ‘Somehow ? No matter the cost ? Out of the question,’ answers the FO federation of national education personnel.
The sanitary conditions are still not met for a recovery, even a gradual one.
With now 54,000 signatures and more to its petition for a general screening of students and staff collected in a few days, FO will support staff who want to exercise their right of withdrawal or go on strike, it announced.
It has already launched an alert procedure for serious and imminent danger and has filed a strike notice.
The Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, did not pledge screening for students and staff.
‘My message is very simple: we have to roll up our sleeves all together.
‘We have to go back to work and a maximum of French people have to go back to work,’ he said on April 29, the day after the Prime Minister presented the main lines of the government’s deconfinement plan.
Following this, the Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, confirmed the gradual reopening of the schools.
Faced with increasingly palpable concern and anger from staff, families and local elected officials, about the conditions for the takeover, the government had to appeal to the voluntary help of parents to send their children to class.
The smallest can therefore return to the crèche (in groups of ten maximum) and the slightly larger in kindergarten and primary school from May 11. The colleges will not reopen until May 18, in departments with little infection, starting with the 6th and 5th classes.
The reopening of high schools would not be considered until the end of May.
Unfortunately, the national health protocol proposed by the government to supervise this school deconfinement is very far from allaying fears.
The ministry insists on not taking into account the opinion of the national education organisations which want a generalised screening for staff and students before any resumption of activity, – as requested by the unions and recommended by the WHO (World Health Organisation).
The government is only considering screening for people with symptoms, but it is well known that most children can be asymptomatic while carrying the virus and are therefore contagious.
The promised masks are fabric masks intended for the general public and not FFP2 masks, the only masks recognised as sufficient personal protection by the Labour Code.
In addition, the wearing of a mask for children would not be compulsory – either in nursery schools or in primary schools.
There is no mention either of barriers or safety distances. The protocol would limit the number of students to 15 in a class, so that they could be more than one metre apart.
‘All colleagues, especially school principals and school leaders tell us that this is impossible,’ reports Clément Poullet, secretary general of FNEC-FP FO teachers union.
‘Impossible in view of the configuration of the premises, impossible in view of the equipment available, and impossible in view of the teaching staff … And what about canteens, corridors, playgrounds, welcoming children with special needs?’ he demanded.
In these conditions, the risk is to create ‘epidemiological bombs’ in schools, he warned. In secondary, the effective resumption of classes should not be done before next September, both for colleges and for high schools, believe the heads of FO establishments.
Without widespread and regular screening of staff and students, without the necessary health protection measures, any recovery is unacceptable, says the FNEC FP FO.
It therefore decided to initiate the alert procedure for serious and imminent danger (applicable to the Public Service since 1995). In this context, it will support all staff who want to exercise their right of withdrawal, it announced on April 30. In addition, it filed a strike notice to cover those who decided to go on strike.
In a context where union ‘video meetings’ and ‘general video meetings’ are multiplying all over the country, the digital petition launched by the FO federation, on the evening of April 19, has already garnered more 54,000 signatures.
Its signatories consider that without generalised screening, without the necessary protective measures, any recovery is unacceptable.
Meanwhile, last Thursday in its May Day message, the CGT union federation said: ‘As the whole world faces the pandemic, this May 1st will be, more than ever, the international day of workers’ struggles.
‘Since the start of the health crisis, millions of people have been confined. Many countries live on the forgotten, the invisible of our societies, who continue to work, most often at the risk of their own lives.
‘Words of recognition from governments were not followed by strong action. Words are obviously insufficient to express our anger and our determination to make a difference.
‘We will bring to this May 1st, 2020, although confined, the claims that are more relevant than ever. Sacrificing the health of workers is not admissible.
‘Health, safety, the right to withdraw, to strike, the right to organise must be respected!
‘Sacrificing the rights of workers on the altar of the economy is not tolerable and cannot continue regardless of the situation.
‘It is not a bonus given to the goodwill of the boss or the public employer, a punctual aid to the most modest who will be enough for workers: these are real wage increases in the minimum wage and wages, particularly in collective agreements where they are lowest, just like in the Public Service!
‘Sacrificing the most precarious among us is not admissible in a society of equality and solidarity.
‘Temporary workers, temporary workers, intermittent workers, civic services, the casualisation of workers has multiplied in recent years and the situation of the unemployed and students has been degraded, as has that of undocumented migrants today ignored in both health and social terms.
‘On May 1st, let’s be visible, united, determined. We will not pay for the crisis generated by political choices of a deadly capitalist system.’
- Videos of police violence and testimonies of abusive controls have multiplied since the start of confinement, says the CGT. The facts are concentrated mainly in lower-income neighbourhoods.
The day after the confinement, the figures speak for themselves: Seine-Saint-Denis alone accounts for 10% of the penalty notices. According to more recent figures, the department totals 41,103 tickets, for 242,259 controls, that is to say a rate of violation of 17%, against 6.25% in Paris and 8.7% in Hauts-de-Seine.
Several hypotheses can explain these figures: on the one hand, it is surely easier to respect confinement in wealthy neighbourhoods, where housing conditions are better (in 93, 25% of housing is overcrowded) and residents of working class neighbourhoods are among the workers who do not benefit from telework (bicycle deliverers, caregivers, nurses, cashiers, workers, handlers etc).
On the other hand, police checks are more frequent and more severe in these neighbourhoods. This is at least the analysis proposed by Sebastian Roché, CNRS researcher and specialist in the police, to the newspaper Liberation: ‘Behaviours cannot alone explain such a large amplitude in the verbalisation rates. It is necessarily a different police approach that generates such discrepancies.’
On March 24, in Les Ulis (Essonnes), a video provoked outrage on social networks: Sofiane, 21, was hit by police on the way to work. Deliverer for Amazon, he is prescribed three days of ITT.
The Evry public prosecutor’s office opened two judicial inquiries for acts of violence by a person holding public authority.
Videos posted on Twitter from Asnières, Grigny, Ivry-sur-Seine, Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, Torcy, Saint-Denis and elsewhere in France, show residents apparently struck, gassed, and, in one case, a person being hit by a police officer on a motorcycle.
As of April 14, a police reporting platform had already received 166 reports, and the police had seven court cases opened for alleged violence during containment checks on the Ile de France.
A violent attempt at police arrest sparked anger in working-class neighbourhoods on the night of April 20-21.
An article on the IPGN (independent police watchdog) website, which was also signed by the CGT union, reports: ‘Racist discrimination, already unbearable, is reinforced by police impunity, and violence and humiliation are increasing in working-class neighbourhoods.
‘We can add to it the discriminatory curfew imposed on the inhabitants of these districts by the city of Nice. These glaring injustices are documented, no one can ignore them.
‘Inequalities and discrimination must be vigorously fought and abolished: with the populations of working-class neighbourhoods, we will take part in this just fight for equality, justice and dignity.’
Since then, new cases have come to light including a video broadcast by independent journalist Taha Bouhafs, which shows police officers making racist remarks after he was arrested in Ile-Saint-Denis.
An investigation has been opened by the IPGN.