French President Emmanuel Macron has come under fire for sending young children back to school as part of an easing of lockdown restrictions.
France will reopen primary schools on a voluntary basis from Monday, May 11.
But many local officials have criticised the government, saying there’s not enough time before that date to put in place social distancing and health measures.
The new measures include capping class sizes at 15 students. Secondary schools will open later this month.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has called the decision to open schools “educational, social, and Republican” warning that leaving children out of school for months would be a “time bomb”.
But more than 300 mayors in the Paris region have urged the government in an open letter to delay the reopening of schools, calling the government’s timetable “untenable and unrealistic”.
“The health regulations to be implemented are serious which is very normal, but they cannot be improvised,” the mayors wrote.
“The deadline for May 11 is unrealistic. At best, we might be able to open on May 18 but it won’t be like school as we know it,” said Philippe Bouyssou, the mayor of Ivry-sur-Seine.
“I have a little under 40 per cent of staff that I usually have to run our 28 schools.”
Anxious teachers, giddy kids
Macron visited a school on Monday where children of key health workers have been educated during the lockdown. It was part of an attempt to reassure people about the “new phase” France will enter next week.
But many have rejected the government’s insistence that children should go back to school, comparing the country to neighbours Italy and Spain where schools are not set to open until September.
“There’s a little bit of anxiety, not knowing if we will have the time to implement all the quite drastic and heavy procedures,” said Valerie Hene, a teacher at the CSI International School in Lyon.
“Some of our classes are quite small, so it’s going to be quite difficult to have only 15 students separated by one metre,” she told Euronews.
Ghislain Fauchard works at a high school in La Roche-sur-Yon in western France that usually accommodates around 1,000 students. To comply with new social distancing rules, the school will only be able to take in about half of them on a daily basis, and groups of friends may well get split up in the process.
“It will be a good thing for students to come back to school, but they’ll have to realise that maybe they won’t be seeing their friends. So there will be frustration because they won’t be able to attend classes as they used to,” Fauchard told Euronews.
“We can understand the economy needs to restart and people need to get back to work. But my wife works as a primary school teacher and we can see that it’s going to be very difficult, almost impossible, for the kids to respect all the regulations,” he added.
And what do kids make of all this? The AFP news agency compiled some of their comments in the Paris suburb of Malakoff.
“If we can’t touch, can we play hide-and-seek or hopscotch?” said five-year-old Suzy.
“Maybe we could play some games that allow us to stand away from each other,” suggested Inaya, aged six.
“Maybe we could play Ring a Ring o Roses with friends without holding hands. And then maybe we can dance. Even without music, we can dance.”