Earlier this month on May 11, France slowly opened a few of its primary schools. 20% of students have returned to class with the majority coming from wealthier families.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer explained this is why the decision to reopen schools was made in May instead of June. The 'social emergency,' as Mr. Blanquer defines, of inequality between societal classes in Paris alone leave poorer families in a tough situation.
In the poor Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, where there has been the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths in the past month, Fathia Sissani explains her dilemma in this social divide. As a single mother of one boy and two girls, she had to give up work to care for her disabled middle child.
Although classes had been available online, her youngest son, Riya, dropped out because it was too hard for him to cope with the lessons alone. Fathia says that growing up in Algeria, she studied Arabic. She had learned to speak French rather well, yet struggles to teach her son subjects like maths or grammar.
'Im a parent, not a teacher,' she goes on to say.
Even worse, the Sissanis had to change their internet provider because of bad signal in their area. With everyone online at the same time, it's been difficult to connect to online classes. When asked if she would be sending her children back to school, she said 'I'm against the idea.'
This is a similar scenario across their town and the injustice has gotten the attention of the government.
Little Town Remains Closed
Elsewhere in southern Paris, all schools remain closed in Sens. Marie-Louise Fort, the mayor of Sens, who explains that it boils down to guilt for parents and guardians.
'If they put their children in school and they get sick, they'll feel guilty; if they keep them at home and they fall behind, they'll feel guilty,' she states.
When the lockdown was lifted, teachers reported three suspected cases of coronavirus, all of whom tested negative.
How Safe are Safety Guidelines?
While 40,000 schools have reopened since May 11, Mr. Blanquer issued a 56-page instruction manual for schools to keep their premises fit for reopening with hopes that it will teach parents to trust in the system.
Children over the age of 11 must wear masks, no more than 15 pupils will be in each class, toys cannot be shared, desks are six feet apart, and scheduled arrivals at schools are some of these guidelines.
With the news doing regular coverage on schools, Mr. Blanquer adds that 'the fact that the first 10 days have been a success is the best factor because people see on TV that they're ok, they're happy to come back.'
For parents who want to keep their children from harm in the public, Mr. Blanquer assures them that they are not obliged to send their children back to school.
In an interview, the Education Minister was asked what message will be given to children about staying safe and getting through the pandemic from their teachers.
Mr. Blanquer replied that their psychologists will be speaking at schools to both adults and children since it's important for people to talk about their experiences during the pandemic.
As the government is hopeful for positive change in the coming days, Fathia was among the first parents to say 'no' to the new arrangement, she knows that with many pupils returning to school, it's impossible to watch and follow each individual and they won't even be allowed to play outside.