Defying French lockdown lift, Guadeloupe says won’t open schools now

Mayors in Guadeloupe, a French overseas department in the Caribbean, have voted against reopening schools next week as stipulated in plans drawn up in Paris for easing the coronavirus lockdown.

The region, like France’s other overseas territories scattered around the world, is subject to French laws, but mayors have authority over schools.

On Monday, they gathered in an extraordinary “territorial conference” with the archipelago’s departmental and regional presidents to discuss the reopening of schools.

Of the 32 mayors, 29 voted against restarting classes when the lockdown starts to be eased in France from May 11, saying students should go back only in September.

Reopening classes in mainland France has proven controversial, with the government’s own scientific council advising against it. With less than a week to go, many parents are still unclear about how it is meant to work.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe last week announced that primary schools and daycare centres would reopen gradually from May 11 after eight weeks of lockdown, then junior high schools the following week — but only in areas not hit hard by the epidemic.

There could be no more than 15 pupils to a class, he said.

A government protocol has since detailed guidelines for frequent handwashing, disinfecting of shared items, and maintaining a safe distance between pupils, which means no ball sports or contact games.

In Guadeloupe, as in mainland France, parents and teachers have expressed reservations about resuming classes now, pointing to inadequate sanitary conditions on the archipelago such as a lack of running water at several schools.

Guadeloupe, according to a government map of all departments, updated daily, falls in the safer “green” category of lower coronavirus circulation. By Monday, the territory had registered 152 confirmed cases, with five patients in intensive care.

The overseas departments of French Guiana and Martinique are also refusing to reopen schools on May 11.

French President Emmanuel Macron, donning a black face mask, visited a school outside Paris on Tuesday to try to assuage fears about the looming return to class next week, which the mayors of Paris and other cities have urged him to delay.