31 August 2020
In Paris, a mother and her three children recently went to a supermarket to look for school supplies. They bought writing instruments, notebooks and plenty of face masks.
Parents and children across Europe have been making similar purchases at the start of a new school year.
European officials have decided to put children back into school classrooms for the new term.
Facing an increase in coronavirus cases, officials in France, Britain, Spain and other countries are making rules about masks, building new classrooms and adding teachers.
European leaders from the political left, right and center are sending a similar message to students and their parents: Even in a pandemic, children are better off in class.
France's prime minister promised last week to "do everything" to get people back to school and work. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called reopening schools a "moral duty." His government even threatened to fine parents who keep children at home. And Italy's health minister forced discos to close this month with one goal in mind: "to reopen schools in September in complete safety."
As both a parent and a teacher, Mathieu Maillard has a lot to worry about when French schools reopen. Over the past month, the number of virus infections has increased in France.
Maillard thinks it is time for students to go back. School "has to start up again at some point," he said. "The health risk exists, but the risk of not putting children in school is even bigger."
When governments ordered people to stay at home, he said, some students never joined his online literature classes. Some had no place to work or did not have computers.
"Our students really, really need school," he said. For those growing up in an environment plagued with violence and drugs, school "is a place where they can breathe."
In southeast London, father of three Mark Davis is looking forward to schools reopening in September. But he worries about what will happen if there is a rise in coronavirus infections.
"Everyone is gunning for this (return to school), but it's no good just hoping for the best," he said. "Plans need to be put in place."
The British government says schools will only close if conditions become very bad. But parents say the government's message has been unclear.
Most of the country's 11 million students have not seen a classroom since March. Britain has 41,515 virus-related deaths, the highest confirmed number in Europe. Johnson's government has been strongly criticized for the way it has reacted to the pandemic.
Some European schools are considering a mixed school year, with some in-person classes and others online. But most want to do in-person classes.
UNICEF, the United Nations' Childrens Fund, recently announced guidance for government officials. It said that at least a third of the world's schoolchildren were unable to do distance learning during virus lockdowns. UNICEF officials warned that the effects "could be felt in economies and societies for decades."
Medical experts say the risk of opening schools depends on how widespread COVID-19 infections are in the community and what safety measures are taken.
Evidence suggests young children do not spread the disease very easily. But children aged 10 years and up may spread it as easily as adults. While children appear less likely than adults to get infected, severe cases and deaths have been documented.
Health experts say more evidence is needed.
Parents and teachers are not the only people demanding a voice in school reopenings. Denmark's second-largest city, Aarhus, sent all its high school students home after an increase in virus cases. But the students pushed back, saying they do not learn as much online.
In protests last week, they held signs reading: "I just want to go to school."
I'm John Russell.
Angela Charlton reported on this story for The Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
mask – n. a cover or partial cover for the face
pandemic – n. a situation in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world
disco – n. a business where people dance to recorded popular music
plague i to cause worry to someone — usually used as (be) plagued; to cause constant or repeated trouble or disease for (someone or something)
gun for (something) -- phrasal verb to try to get something in a very determined way
lockdown – n. requirements that people stay in their homes and limit activities outside the home