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Millions of French children returned to school on Monday after more than three months at home due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Pupils in kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools up to the age of 15 are required to return following a gradual reopening that began in recent weeks.
French schools closed on March 16, a day before the countrys nationwide lockdown began amid the Covid-19 crisis. Despite the easing that began in mid-May and included the gradual reopening of schools, many schoolchildren have not set foot on school grounds in three months.
“I cried with joy when I got the confirmation from the teacher that my two children would be going back to school full time,” Noémie from Nice told AFP.
According to the latest figures from the countrys education ministry, only 1.8 million primary school children, out of a total of 6.7 million, have returned to school – and most not on a full-time basis. The figures for collège, Frances middle schools, are 600,000 out of 3.3 million.
The return to the classroom has followed the easing of a strict health protocol initially put in place for schools. Starting Monday, there are no longer any social distancing rules for kindergarten children within their class groups. In primary schools, a one-metre social distancing rule is recommended. In middle schools, when the one-metre distancing is not possible, students will be required to wear a mask.
On Sunday, government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye called on parents to “have confidence” in schools. “Everything is being done so that their children will be welcomed safely,” she said.
'Two weeks isn't nothing'
Last week, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, who had said he hoped for a full return to school before the summer holidays, said the aim was to see “the most pupils possible” return to school.
Depending on the school, a return on Monday represents eight or nine days of class before the summer break.
“Two weeks isnt nothing, either in educational or psychological terms,” Blanquer said.
Despite a loosened protocol, some education unions have suggested there will be “reception problems in some places”.
“We are exhausted by this period of demands and counter-demands,” a school principal in Rennes told AFP.