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Question of society. “We are in a chase between the virus and the vaccine. School for children is their second home”: Jean Viard, sociologist

Should schools be closed or not? Children have suffered greatly from the closure of schools during the first confinement. (Illustration) (FATCAMERA / E + / GETTY IMAGES)

Social issue on franceinfo like every Sunday with the sociologist Jean Viard, to decipher the news, in particular that of the pandemic which has been raging for more than a year all over the planet.

While Emmanuel Macron, in the Sunday newspaper, affirms a little mysteriously that nothing has been decided on the evolutions of the restrictions against the Covid-19, something is noticeable, and comes up more and more often: the question of the closure of schools. The President of the Republic, for the moment, refuses to do so. He sees it as the last of last resort, in the face of the virus.

franceinfo: What does that say about the importance of schools? What does it mean to close them?

I do not want to get involved in this political debate. These are arbitrations that may or may not be discussed, but I find that at the moment there are many specialists on such a difficult subject. It intrigues me a bit. What is clear is that school in France has been given an extremely central mission. It must be recognized that the Minister of National Affairs since he has been there, whether it is the duplication of preparatory classes in difficult neighborhoods, whether it is the transformation of the baccalaureate, he has decided to put the school back as a heart social bond. I believe that has been a constant policy for three years. We like it or not, we agree or not. It is a central axis.

The second thing is that we saw clearly during the first confinement that for families, having children at home for a long time is extremely difficult. So including that, it’s an element. And especially for children, school, it is clearly their second home. We saw their suffering when the school was closed, and I believe that it is an essential place of sociability. And so, in this period when they are extremely anxious (they hear about the dead every day, they may know some around them, etc.), the children’s anguish is terrible. This is one of the elements of the dossier.

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And then there is, of course, the principle of equality which is still, it should not be forgotten, that there are families who help their children very well when they are not going to school, and others who do not help them, cannot, who do not have the time, who do not know, who do not speak French at home, etc. So there is a principle of inequality that will affect an entire generation. It’s not short term, it’s very long term. There are all of these things on the table. Afterwards, of course, France made it a political marker, taking into account the fact that France, Jules Ferry, was very republican as a position of the school, as the heart of the social bond. Remember the policies of schools in villages in the 19th century etc. So there is a real reflection, I was going to say, on the collective identity and the relationship to school. So that is also an element.

And then, I would like to say that the number of cases in schools is low, so that does not mean that it is non-existent. But I believe there are 1,300 teachers who have been sick or are sick now. They did not necessarily catch the virus at school, they are almost 1.2 million teachers so, 1300 sick, excuse me for 1, 2 million teachers, you have to have the figures in your head as well. I think you have to compare to the cashiers. It is necessary to compare to the delivery men, to the truck drivers. So, that’s why the question is extremely difficult. But it is clear, it seems to me, that the school is a symbolic place of unity and equality. I think that’s why we put her in this position.

So few patients in absolute value so far. Friday March 26, the Minister of National Education decided on a new measure, a new restriction with the automatic closure of a class as soon as there is a sick student. It can go very quickly. This can significantly increase the number of returns home, especially in the most affected areas. Ile de France, the Hauts de France, even the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. But symbolically, we do not say: we close schools.

Yes, but we are not there because there were 1,599 classes closed last week against 528,400 across the country. You have to see the numbers. So of course it will increase. And in addition, the English variant is much more contaminating. It is clear that the measures to be taken must increase since it seems, according to the studies, that the children are not so sick, but that they transmit a lot, in particular the college students, etc. So there is all of that.

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And then there is a legitimate fear of teachers which is respectable. It’s like always in a complicated subject, it’s a trade-off between different tendencies, but that’s why I give the figures of the number of closed classes, etc. If we close 528,400 classes, that is obviously an absolutely considerable social phenomenon. Can we still save time? We are in a race with the vaccine. Are we going to have both? I have absolutely no idea. It is clear that it is a chase between the virus and the vaccine and also the balance of families, the balance of children and the traumas that will remain in everyone’s mind. Trade-offs are naturally debatable, but each time you have to give the figures back to people. And then after, everyone makes their decision.

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