French teachers strike over 'chaotic' COVID-19 strategy for schools

Students attend class at Gounod Lavoisier Primary school in Lille, northern France, September 2, 2021. (Photo: CFP)

French teachers walked off the job on Thursday over what they say is the government's failure to adopt a coherent policy for schools to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and properly protect pupils and staff against infection.

Teachers, parents and school administrators have struggled as new testing requirements were announced on the eve of the return from Christmas holidays and changed twice since.

"We had reached such a level of exasperation, tiredness, and anger that we didn't have any other option but to organize a strike to send a strong message to the government," Elisabeth Allain-Moreno, national secretary of the SE-UNSA teachers union, said.

Unions have said they expect many schools to be closed on Thursday and large numbers of teachers – including about 75 percent in primary schools – to join the one-day strike. Unions representing school directors, inspectors and other staff have also joined the strike.

The government, having reversed an earlier policy of quickly shutting down classes with positive coronavirus cases, has been standing by its policy to keep classes open as much as possible, saying some degree of complication is the price to pay.

Infections have surged in schools as France has set records with close to 370,000 new daily cases. Positive cases can result in dozens of pupils and staff being sent to labs and pharmacies for testing.

France reported on Tuesday its highest daily record of COVID-19 infections since the outbreak of the pandemic, with 368,149 new cases detected in that last 24 hours.