The Lycée in Concordia. (Robert Luckock photo)
MARIGOT–The branch of the national teacher’s union for secondary education in St. Martin (Syndicat National des Enseignants de Second dégre de la Fédération Syndicale Unitaire SNES-FSU) said it had a provisional figure of twenty per cent of secondary-school teachers supporting the national strike on Thursday.
“It could have been better, but on the other hand we are quite satisfied,” said SNES representative in St. Martin Laurent Bayly. He did not have the numbers at hand for the primary schools.
The strike was low-key in St. Martin, with no marches and no demonstrations. Teacher unions in France called for the one-day strike to express their dissatisfaction with the way the French government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
SNES requested closure of secondary schools in St. Martin for two weeks, but the Vice-Recteur refused.
“Closing the schools would have helped prevent spread of the virus, but the Rectorat is in denial, believing there is less risk of infection in the schools than in other places or at home,” Bayly said. “Closing would have been more effective 10 days ago, but to do it now, we are not so sure. I think we have to continue teaching with half-groups or half-classes.”
SNES claims nothing has been done for the past two years to learn the lessons of the first wave and allow for true distance learning.
Moreover, the passing of the Baccalaureate specialty tests in March will pose a big problem, it predicted. Teachers will be unable to complete a programme that is already very difficult to handle in normal circumstances. Postponement of the tests has been refused.
At the professional Lycée in Concordia there was very little impact from the teachers’ strike. Principal Janine Hamlet told The Daily Herald just two teachers out of 37 supported the strike.
“We thought there would be more support for the strike, but our main focus is handling the COVID-19 situation,” she said. “We are functioning on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis because situations are so unexpected and different. We have to be reactive and adaptable all the time.”
She said there has been a high percentage of absenteeism of students because of COVID-19 since the return to school on January 3, some 400 students per day out of 700, and 25 per cent of teachers absent. Students stayed away either because they tested positive or parents were afraid to send them to school
“One of our biggest difficulties here is that we are also a vocational school which involves practical training. You can’t work on a machine from a distance.”
Hamlet said the school’s main objective now is to send out letters to regain parents’ confidence and persuade them to bring their children back to school.
“Coming to school does not necessarily mean you will catch the virus. We are well organised with gel distributors, masks, sanitary wipes everywhere and classrooms and desks are disinfected. We believe they are safer here than outside.”
The concern is that if students stay away too long it will be more difficult to pass their exams. Vocational school exams start in two months.