From Tuesday, September 1, middle and high school students will return to classrooms. While the coronavirus epidemic is rebounding in France, some teachers are wondering about the conditions of this unprecedented re-entry, marked by a tightening of the health protocol.

In France, the number of coronavirus infections is on the rise for several weeks, but the start of the school year will take place on Tuesday 1 September. Affirming that “education is more important than ever”, the Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, assured, Thursday, August 20, that the students will be welcomed every day in class. He also announced that the start of the school year would be marked by stricter health rules, in particular concerning the wearing of a mask.

Previously, this was mandatory when physical distancing could not be respected, from now on, the mask must be worn by adults and students over eleven years old, in closed places, even if physical distancing is ensured. In outdoor spaces, this rule will evolve according to “local appreciation”, said the minister.

The mask will be provided by the schools to the teachers, the pupils will have to get it by themselves.

Possibility to remove the mask, under condition

The minister said that the teachers will be able, in the event of a distance of two meters from the students, to remove the mask to teach. The latest version of the health protocol referred to a distance of one meter. “If it interferes with the course, this possibility exists. Wearing a mask can be a constraint for teachers, especially when they have to talk for hours,” said Jean-Michel Blanquer.

In closed spaces (canteens, libraries or even classrooms), physical distancing will no longer be compulsory when it is “not materially possible or when it does not accommodate all the students”. The same principle prevails in outdoor spaces, for example, in the playground.

According to the protocol, however, the space must be rearranged in order to “maintain the greatest possible distance between the pupils”.

Despite this intervention, college and high school teachers are wondering about the conditions of this new school year. In the aftermath of these announcements, Benoît Teste, secretary general of the FSU, denounced on LCI “a lot of vagueness on the organization” of the return to school. “A lot of things are not ready and are not clarified,” he added. Several days before Jean-Michel Blanquer’s statement, the SNUIPP-FSU union, the first organization in primary school, had asked a postponement of the start of the school year for a few days so that teachers can prepare for it. A request refused by the Minister.

Professors in search of clarification

Since the announcement of these major orientations, teachers have grown impatient. “We have no information for the start of the school year, apart from what the minister [de l’Éducation nationale] said television, “regrets Caroline Louet, professor of history and geography at the Paul-Louis Courier high school, in Tours, in Indre-et-Loire, contacted by France 24.

A lack of communication also denounced by Sullivan Caristan, professor of French at the Jean-Jaurès college, in Saint-Ouen, in Seine-Saint-Denis. “I am worried, imagining the stress that we will experience in the face of this lack of visibility and this lack of clear instructions,” he complains. “We are given the main objectives but not the instructions for use”, adds this teacher, interviewed by France 24.

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If all the students will be present in class, it is difficult for these teachers to imagine their classes full again, in a context of epidemic recovery. “The students change rooms because since the reform of the school, they are divided into different specialty groups”, explains Caroline Louet, who fears “a mixing of students”.

Inevitable physical contact

Outside of classrooms, limiting physical contact may be difficult to implement. “In the corridors, the students are touching and jostling each other”, describes this teacher, who should accommodate about thirty high school students in each class.

With so many students in the classrooms, respect for hand hygiene will also be a challenge to be taken up, especially in terms of resources. Sullivan Caristan believes, for example, that “there are not enough toilets” in his establishment and that “they are not in good condition”. For her part, Caroline Louet fears “a waste of time” if the students have to wash their hands at the start and end of each class.

Teachers will also have to get their students used to wearing the compulsory mask. “It will be difficult to make yourself heard and understand the interventions of the students”, specifies Caroline Louet. An even more problematic constraint during foreign language lessons. “To learn pronunciation in Spanish, the mask will not be ideal, especially for those who are just starting out”, abounds Clémence Garcia, Spanish teacher at Les Plaisances college, in Mantes-la-Ville, in Yvelines, contacted by France 24.

“The students have to go back to school”

For these teachers, the return of their students to class remains a relief. “I have students who experience social and family difficulties. I therefore prefer that they are as numerous as possible in my classes rather than be at home”, explains Sullivan Caristan. “The students must resume lessons because many were left out during confinement”, raises, for his part, Clémence Garcia.

After the start of the school year, these student reception conditions could change. “If there was a greater circulation of the virus in the times to come in a given territory, then we could take other measures, such as distance education, or with little presence with smaller groups of students, “warned the Minister of Education. On August 26, Jean-Michel Blanquer should again speak on the organization of the start of the school year. An intervention expected by worried teachers, a few days before the resumption of classes.

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