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Paris-area mayors call on Macron to delay reopening of schools beyond May 11

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, wearing a protective mask, April 9 2020 in Paris.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, wearing a protective mask, April 9 2020 in Paris. Ludovic MARIN AFP

French mayors representing the Ile-de-France region, which includes the city of Paris, have called on President Emmanuel Macron to delay the reopening of schools until after May 11, denouncing the plan as a “forced march” out of the country's coronavirus lockdown.

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In an open letter to President Macron published on the La Tribune website over the weekend, the group of greater Paris area mayors, including the French capital's Anne Hidalgo, asked that the reopening of nurseries and schools be delayed until after May 11 arguing the deadline is “untenable and unrealistic”.

The 329 signatories to the letter say that they want more consultation and more time “to allow for the strict application of an equally stringent health protocol” by May 11, when France begins phasing out a nationwide lockdown.

The mayors likened the calendar preparing the lockdown's end to a "forced march" carried through "even as we do not yet have all the information to ready the population, and the directives keep shifting," the mayors said.

 ‘Catastrophe’ for vulnerable schoolchildren

Pushing back against calls for a delay in school re-openings, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe on Monday said the closure of schools was "a catastrophe” for the country’s most vulnerable children and adolescents. 

Addressing the Senate, where he was presenting a bill to extend France’s health emergency to June 24, Philippe insisted that for “tens of thousands of young people,” extending the primary school lockdown until the end of the term “is probably a time bomb". 

The prime minister reiterated that the lockdown easing plan entailed "very gradually reopening kindergartens and elementary schools from May 11, everywhere in the territory and on a voluntary basis". Secondary school would start re-opening from May 18 in the country’s “green zones” where infections have been low, said Philippe. 

Calls to prioritise

Philippe’s government has been criticised for failing to consult with the mayors on how to best reintegrate students and teachers back into schools.

"Many people still don't have any information about the teachers who would be available for our schools, the number of extra-curricular activity staff who could be available, or even the number of pupils to be accommodated," said the mayors.

They called on the government to "clearly prioritise the children who will be able/should be able to return to school taking into account the family context of each child".

Issue of legal liability

Opposition lawmakers and some experts have also questioned the practicalities of schools reopening in the greater Paris area, which has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus.

French MPs are considering initiatives to provide better legal protection for mayors who say they are unfairly having to shoulder “the legal, political and moral responsibility” for reopening schools.

Concerns parents could lodge a legal complaint against the mayor of their town should their child contract Covid-19 at school were also flagged by the mayors.

Several education unions have in recent days denounced the May 11 date for the reopening of schools as arbitrary, with the main SNUipp-FSU union lamenting that it had not been approved by a medical authority.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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