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COVID-19 pushing us to breaking point says French headteacher

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SAINT-MAUR-DES-FOSSES, France – French headteacher Laurence Coureul has spent the COVID-19 pandemic working long hours trying to keep her school running despite pupils and staff getting the virus, but with cases now rising again, she feels she’s reaching her limit.

“The teams are getting exhausted,” she said of her staff at the Joan of Arc junior school in Saint-Maur-des-Fosses, a southern suburb of Paris, where this week another two classes were ordered home because some pupils were infected.

“Getting by day-by-day cannot go on for a long time. At a certain point, one needs to make the tough decisions,” said the 48-year-old headteacher. “If we need to close down, we need to do it soon.”

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The government of French President Emmanuel Macron has made it a point of pride that – unlike many other countries – France has not closed its schools through most of the pandemic.

Officials say they are doing everything in their power so schools can stay open safely, including rolling out testing and vaccines.

Laurence Coureul
Laurence Coureul.
Collège Jeanne D’ Arc Saint-Maur-des-Fossés

But Macron’s policy is being severely tested. The number of positive cases among people under 18 was up 28 percent week-on-week, according to official data released on March 25.

The education wing of the CGT trade union said of the impact of the coronavirus: “It’s a catastrophe.” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Wednesday the city’s schools should close.

Staff at the Eugene Delacroix High School in Drancy, on the northern edge of Paris, have asked for the school to be closed.

The deaths of 20 parents of pupils at the school have been linked to COVID-19, according to the local teacher’s union.

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Jenoshan Easwarakumar, a 16-year-old pupil, said his class has been in quarantine five times. “For us, the only answer is to close the school,” he said.

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