26 September 2023

FRANCE: Volunteers keep schools open

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French volunteer teachers are continuing to turn up to work to cater for the children of frontline health and emergency workers fighting the pandemic.

Nathalie Carboni-Latour, the head teacher of a nursery school in eastern Paris, says this is what public service is all about — “we’re not just salaried workers”.

“Not everyone can volunteer in the present circumstances. Some have their own children to look after or a medical condition that places them at risk,” Ms Carboni-Latour says.

“Many teachers also live far out, meaning they would face long journeys on public transport and thus a greater risk of infection.”

In countries across the world, school closures and lockdown measures have presented emergency services with a quandary even as they face unprecedented surges in patient numbers.

In Italy, the first to close schools nationwide, many hospital nurses were forced to drop out at a critical time to look after their children.

Similar staff shortfalls have been reported in the United States, with hospitals reaching out to temporary staff agencies and exploring other ways to maintain workforce levels as childcare presents a major challenge.

With French emergency rooms already overwhelmed, the Paris Education Authority has decided to keep some schools — those closest to key hospitals — open on weekends too.

Other authorities have also adopted more flexible timetables, but there is a limit to how much flexibility schools operating on skeleton teams can offer.

Cécile Morini-Dornier, who runs a primary school in a rural area in the Seine-et-Marne Department, east of Paris, says some health workers expressed interest in the scheme “but had to find another solution, because they leave for work at dawn, when the school is shut”.

Other parents prefer not to expose their children, or other people’s children, to the threat of contagion at school.

“We’re a welcome hub, but we’re also an infection hub,” Ms Morini-Dornier says.

“The children of health professionals are, by definition, particularly exposed to the virus.”

Paris, 29 March 2020

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