PARIS (Reuters) – Teachers at a junior high school in central Paris went on strike on Thursday, forcing the school’s closure, after support staff were quarantined following two COVID-19 infections.
Teachers said the safety of pupils could not be assured without replacements for the support staff, whose duties include manning the school gate and supervising the playground and canteen at lunchtime.
The strike underscores the challenge local authorities face ensuring schools stay open as the spread of the coronavirus quickens once again in France and beyond. Schools across much of Europe were shut down during the first wave of the pandemic.
“We want the authorities to hire more people for what lies head,” said Eva Mouilleaud, a French teacher at Valmy College. “The number of COVID cases are increasing, they’re going to have to take decisions.”
Mouilleaud said she and her colleagues would return to work on Friday after assurances that there would be sufficient replacement staff for the school to operate safely.
But she said that the local education authority was making it up one day at a time and that another strike on Monday could not be ruled out. Olivier Pons, a school parent, decried what he called a lack of forward planning by local authorities.
The potential cost of replacement teachers during the epidemic has persuaded some schools in The Netherlands to take testing into their own hands.
The Trouw newspaper reported that 50 elementary schools were buying commercial COVID-19 test kits to reduce the time needed to obtain a result, with the 100 euros cost per test cheaper than hiring a replacement teacher.
“We would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we didn’t,” Gert Tissink, a school district manager in the South Holland province, told the newspaper.
In Italy, where schools in most regions are set to reopen on Sept. 14, the education ministry told Reuters some 300 teachers had asked to be qualified as “fragile workers” and exempt from working at the start of the new academic year.
(Reporting by Richard Lough in Paris, additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Elisa Anzolin in Rome; Editing by Hugh Lawson)