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French teachers go on strike over handling of pandemic

French teachers

PARIS (AP) — French teachers have walked out in a nationwide strike Thursday to express anger at the way the government is handling the virus situation in schools, denouncing confusing rules and calling for more protection.

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Exhausted by the pressures of surging COVID-19 cases, a large majority of teachers were expected to support the call by 11 unions to protest virus-linked class disruptions and ever-changing isolation rules.

Unions have staged a street protest in Paris city center on Thursday afternoon.

France is at the epicenter of Europe’s current fight against COVID-19, with new infections topping 360,000 a day this week, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. Teachers are upset and want clarifications on rules and more protections, such as extra masks and tests to help with the strain.

“The month of January is a tough one (for schools),” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer acknowledged on France 2 television. His ministry counted 50,000 new COVID-19 cases among students in “recent days” and a huge number of classes shut down due to the virus: 10,553. The figures are expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

Unions estimated that 62% to 75% of teachers were supporting the protest movement, depending on which school they’re posted. The government said 27% of teachers were on strike.

The SNUIPP teacher’s union says discontentment is rising among French teachers. Since Jan. 6, authorities have already imposed two changes to the rules on testing schoolchildren, leaving many with whiplash.

“The situation since the start of the January school year has created an indescribable mess and a strong feeling of abandonment and anger among school staff,” the union said.

SNUIPP is calling for a return to a previous rule that shuts classes down for a week if a child tests positive.

Teachers are also demanding higher quality masks, more testing at schools and devices in classes warning when ventilation is required.

The strike comes after French senators approved a bill requiring adults to provide proof of vaccination to enter restaurants and bars, cinemas, theaters, museums, sports arenas and inter-regional trains. Unvaccinated kids between 12 and 17 can show a negative test.

The measure will come into force after parliament approves the legislation by next week.

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