France could prosecute as schools defy 5-day week
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Controversial new school hours went into effect across France this week, but around 20 local mayors are refusing to enforce the new schedule and have been threatened with legal repercussions.
The law effectively ends the long-held French tradition of the four-day week, when schools were closed on Wednesdays.
The new policy, championed by the Socialist government of President François Hollande, puts into place a five-day week at the primary school level.
However, on Wednesday, some schools refused to open in defiance of the changes.
Twenty-one French mayors kept their schools shut completely, while two mayors closed schools partially in protest at the reforms, the AFP news agency reported.
French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem warned rebel mayors that the government would pursue legal action and could ultimately fire them.
“Preventing children from going to school and preventing teachers from doing their jobs, seems to be not just undemocratic but intolerable,” Vallaud-Belkacem told reporters while visiting a school in the Parisian suburb of Gennevilliers on Wednesday.
Around 4,000 towns and cities applied the new schedule last year, but nearly 20,000 others are enacting these reforms for the first time this week.
On Wednesday, law enforcement officials filed court papers which would allow police to forcibly open schools in at least six towns, if necessary.
An unpopular subject
Dissent over the new school schedule has cut across the political spectrum, even if an overwhelming majority of cities and towns chose to implement the reform at the start of the new term.
Right-wing lawmakers have railed against what they call a poorly-conceived measure by Socialists. They argue that it adds an unjust financial burden on local governments, which must now offer new after-school programmes as part of the reforms.
As for the mainly left-leaning teachers’ unions, they claim the new reform in the beginning of the end of the public education system, and will only deepen already existing inequalities between rich and poor towns.
Teachers also worry that wealthy school districts will be able to offer their pupils more valuable after-school activities than cities and towns strapped for cash.
But the government argues that the previous long school days left children exhausted, and that classroom hours needed to be spread out over the week.
The rule of law
Opposition to the new school reform has been the loudest in the Essone department, south of Paris.
Around 150 angry parents demonstrated on Wednesday in the city of Evry, voicing support for 12 mayors in the department who are refusing to implement the measure.
According to French law, mayors who refuse to implement a nationwide law can be suspended for up to one month, and can even be sacked.
The rebel mayors are also vulnerable to prosecution for breaking the law as private citizens.