After lockdown, French kids back to school in smaller classes

PARIS (Reuters) - When France lifts a nearly two-month coronavirus lockdown on May 11, French children will go back to school in stages and in much smaller classes in order to minimise infection risk, the education minister said on Tuesday.

Jean-Michel Blanquer told a parliament hearing that while maximum class sizes may be different for primary and secondary school, no more than about 15 pupils would be allowed per class, which would correspond to halving current class groups.

“It will be absolutely necessary to work with small groups,” Blanquer said.

He also said that some primary school pupils would return in stages the week of May 11, starting with the youngest children and giving schools some flexibility on how they want to implement the return.

The week of May 18, some secondary schools and trade schools would resume, with a view to have most of the school system operational again the week of May 25.

Blanquer said back-to-school arrangements would be discussed with local authorities, teachers’ unions, parent group federations and educational advisory bodies.

He said a series of measures would be put in place to prevent infection between pupils and teachers.

“There will be a health protocol, and schools will not reopen unless those conditions are met,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that it is important to restart school as soon as possible for children in low-income families, who have less parental learning support and technology for home schooling.

French universities will remain closed until after summer.

France closed all nurseries, schools and universities from March 16 to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus. France had already closed some schools in the regions worst hit by the virus from early March.

When the nationwide school closures were announced on March 12, France had reported 2,876 cases of coronavirus infection and 61 deaths. On Monday, the number of coronavirus cases had soared to over 155,000 and the number of deaths to 20,265.

In Germany, the oldest students went back to class on Monday to take final exams and write their papers under strict social distancing rules. Austria will reopen schools for school leavers in early May, while for other years schools will reopen in a step-by-step process beginning May 15.

In Britain, the education minister said on Sunday that no decision had been taken on when to reopen schools.

Reporting by Jean-Philippe Lefief and Benoit Van Overstraeten; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Jonathan Oatis