Teachers in France strike over COVID chaos, say government is 'denying reality'

French teacher demonstration.
(Image credit: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Teachers across France staged a large-scale, one-day walkout on Thursday in protest of ever-changing and confusing classroom COVID guidelines and lax pandemic work conditions amid an Omicron-led spike in cases, The New York Times reports.

According to the French Education Ministry, nearly one-third of teachers "stayed away from their classrooms" on Thursday, though teachers unions have estimated that figure at over 60 percent, writes The Washington Post.

It's not that students and educators want schools to shut down; rather, they'd like "more government support and clearer protocols, amid widespread staff absences, a lack of protective equipment, frequently changing testing requirements and surging caseloads in classrooms," per the Post.

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"The strike is not against the virus," protesting teacher and union member Lilia Larbi told The Associated Press, "it's against bad communication, changing rules ... and the bad handling of the sanitary crisis."

The government is "denying reality," and teachers "feel like we're babysitting," she added.

The walk-out creates "a serious challenge" for President Emmanuel Macron, whose government has made a name for itself in keeping schools open longer than other European countries during the pandemic, notes the Times. Unfortunately, however, France is now averaging nearly 300,000 new infections a day, "almost six times as many as a month ago and far more than at any earlier point in the pandemic."

Over 10,000 French classrooms have closed in response to the surge, and tens of thousands of students have tested positive, French authorities said.

And though teachers' strikes are common in France, the Times notes, "they do not often unite as many unions as Thursday's action did." Eleven unions representing teachers, parents, and other staff were present, per BBC.

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