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Many schools close in France, as teachers strike over chaotic COVID strategy for schools

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

Teachers, parents and school administrators have struggled to deal with the pandemic and the government's many twist and turns on COVID rules at school. New testing requirements were announced on the eve of the return from Christmas holidays and changed twice since.

Mirlene Pouvin, whose child is in a high school where some teachers were on strike and others present, said she sympathized with those who walked off the job.

"I understand them, because the (COVID) protocol is impossible to apply - whether it's in schools or in hospitals. I hold no grudge against them," she said after an early morning school drop-off in Paris.

Unions have said they expect many schools to be closed for the day and large numbers of teachers - including about 75% in primary schools and 62% in high schools - to join the one-day strike. Unions representing school directors, inspectors and other staff have also joined the strike.

Schools in Paris and beyond offered a mixed picture on Thursday morning, with some entirely closed because of the strike, some partly open, others operating normally. Some were open only for children of health workers.

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.

"The exhaustion and exasperation of the entire educational community have reached an unprecedented level," a joint statement by 11 unions said.

"The responsibility of the minister and the government in this chaotic situation is absolute because of incessant changes of footing, unworkable protocols and the lack of appropriate tools to guarantee (schools) can function properly."

The Education Ministry said it would provide strike turnout numbers later in the day.

(Source: Reuters) 

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