Why is the new experiment in schools already criticized?

In order to reinforce one of the government’s mantras throughout the coronavirus crisis, namely to keep schools open and face-to-face classes as much as possible, the Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer unveiled on Tuesday a new experimental device for avoid class closures as much as possible.

Until then, all kindergarten and primary school classes closed on the first positive case for Covid-19, for a total of 2,366 classes closed during the last official count last Friday, or 0.45% of national classes. This figure was down compared to the previous week, when there were 3,299 closed classes. A local experiment aims, in the event of a positive pupil in a nursery or primary class, to test the whole class: positive pupils, and those refusing to be tested, would be forced to distance themselves, but negative pupils could continue to follow the face-to-face course. This new rule should apply “in ten departments, probably from the beginning of next week”, announced the minister on France Info.

Criticized timing

Jean-Michel Blanquer justifies his measure by a better epidemic situation and a falling incidence on all age groups, even among children despite the start of the school year. If it is for the moment an experiment, it is already not unanimous. Starting with its timing. Autumn is coming, a period conducive to a new wave according to the Scientific Council: with the proliferation of closed places and the return of the population in person to work and to class, the epidemic may resume. But beyond the seasonality, Jean-Michel Blanquer’s announcement also falls less than a week after the government’s decision to remove the mask from primary school students in departments where the incidence is less than 50. ” It is very curious to multiply the measures favoring the epidemic. It would be more logical to go there one by one and little by little, to be careful, ”says Michaël Rochoy, epidemiology researcher, despairs.

In terms of positive points, the doctor noted two: already obviously, the fact of keeping the classes open, and the multiplication of tests in children. This is in line with the last opinion of the Scientific Council, published on September 13, which recommends weekly testing of children, “then allowing to send home only children detected positive, and not all students in the same class.”

Is one test really enough?

Except that the experiment of Jean-Michel Blanquer evokes for the moment only one test, which makes it an unreliable element to know the epidemic in the class. Indeed, contamination with the coronavirus takes several days to result in a positive test. If a student A tests positive on a Monday and infects a student B the same day, a test on Tuesday will be negative for student B. Student who can then infect the rest of his class afterwards, or even other students other classes. “In reality, students should be tested before the slightest positive case. Testing them afterwards doesn’t really make sense, especially with dropping the mask. Of course, the neighbor of a positive pupil without a mask will be contaminated, it is not even the time to test ”, proclaims Michaël Rochoy.

A plan which therefore leaves many potential holes in the racket, and can lead to an outbreak of cases according to the researcher: “The advantage of a closed class is that contamination was in fact impossible. There, any false negative can become contaminating for the rest of the class, but also for the school.

Concern with teachers

Elementary and kindergarten teachers don’t necessarily take the news well either. “We are experiencing a high circulation of the virus in children, and therefore in our workplace”, plague André *, primary school teacher. Double vaccinated but being part of the populations at risk, he is worried about this device: “If it happens in my class, I will always wonder if the children present are contaminated or not. A test can easily be wrong, especially since the test has not even been specified! “. It is indeed difficult to know if it will be a saliva, antigen or PCR test, which do not have the same reliability.

To this health risk is added another major constraint: class with students both face-to-face and both in distance. “I cannot be divided,” pleads André. The experimentation has not yet started as it already seems unpopular.

* The first name has been changed.

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