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Back to School in France 2021/2022

Wednesday 08 September 2021

Some 12 million children returned to school (la rentrée) on September 2, with new Covid-19 health protocols in place.

Schools in France have been placed on a yellow (level 2) rating, in order to allow “a return to school that is as normal as possible”, according to the French Education Minister Michel Blanquer.

A four-tier traffic light system is in place to determine which health protocols should be used in schools including rules for which students can attend school in person, mask wearing, how often cleaning should happen and social distancing.

Other barrier measures such as regular hand washing and airing out classrooms will be maintained regardless of the risk level.

The 4 different levels will be applied depending on the circulation of the virus, and will be assessed regularly the Education Ministry said.

They are:

  • Green level (level 1) - Staff and students at collèges and lycées must wear masks inside, and group sizes must be limited but there are no restrictions on physical activities or mixing at meal times.
  • Yellow level (level 2) - Staff and students at primary schools, collèges and lycées must wear masks inside, group sizes must be limited, two metre distance rules must be respected while playing sports and students must eat at the same table in the same groups at meal times.
  • Orange level (level 3) - Staff and students of all ages must wear masks indoors and outdoors, group sizes must be limited, only ‘low intensity’ sports can be practiced indoors while wearing masks, and students must eat at the same table in the same groups at meal times with a two-metre distance from other groups.
  • Red level (level 4) - Staff and students of all ages must wear masks indoors and outdoors, group sizes should be limited, physical activities are only allowed outdoors and students must eat at the same table in the same groups at meal times with a two-metre distance from other groups.

Children in nursery school (maternelle) will not have to wear masks at any level.

The Education Ministry said that parents will play “an essential role” in keeping cases down for the coming school year. Students of any age should not be sent to school and if they have a temperature of more than 38C, or if anyone in their household has symptoms of Covid-19 or has tested positive.

The Health Minister’s announcement comes after President Emmanuel Macron called for the health protocols for la rentrée to be made clear to families and teachers.

While Mr Blanquer said at the end of July that he thought yellow or amber levels were likely to be imposed, the level was only confirmed a week before schools reopened.

Spokesperson for teaching union SNUipp-FSU, Guislaine David, told Le Monde on August 19, “It raises questions of organisation. According to the level, the rules for students mixing are different. At the highest levels students need to wear masks in the playground. All this needs to be planned in advance.”

Students aged 12 and over have been eligible for Covid vaccines since June 15, and the health minister also gave more details of a targeted campaign that will be launched in September for this age group, with vaccine centres set up in or near schools for students and staff.

He told Le Journal du Dimanche that “either vaccination teams will come to give vaccinations in schools, or we will organise trips to vaccination centres on a voluntary basis.”

Current figures show that 60% of teenagers in this age group have currently received a first dose.

Students’ vaccination status could determine whether they can study in school as rules for contact cases in collèges and lycées are set to change.

From September, unvaccinated students over 12-years-old who are identified as contact cases will have to study remotely for seven days, while vaccinated contact cases will still be able to come to school in-person.

According to the Education Minister in primary school, there will be 600,000 saliva tests per week, and two self-tests per adult per week. In the secondary, there will be more targeted tests, since many are vaccinated.

Questions have been raised over who will be given authorisation to check students’ vaccine status as medical information is supposed to remain confidential in school settings.

Mr Blanquer said that students will be able to prove their vaccination status with a written statement from their parents. He added: “Parents are free to not say if their child is vaccinated or not”.

Rules for contact cases in primary schools will stay the same for the 2021/2 academic year – if student tests positive their class will close for seven days and all students will study at home.

While health passes will not be required to enter school buildings, questions have also been asked over how schools will carry out trips and excursions to places like museums, where eligible students could have to show health passes in order to enter.

The Education Ministry has said that from September 30, students will have to show health passes in public spaces where they are required for entry.

Before this date, passes do not need to be shown in places where schools have reserved a time slot meaning other members of the public will not be present, such as swimming pools or libraries.

Around 80% of teachers have been fully vaccinated, with a further 10% who have had the first dose. The French government have stated that there will be provision within schools for the remaining 10% to be vaccinated.

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