As the peak of the COVID-19 crisis passes in certain areas around the world, some countries are taking tentative steps to reopen schools. However, concerns are growing that safety measures in reopened schools could undermine education and kids learning social interaction skills. Now, images from a French nursery school with social distancing that has children separated by chalk and caution tape are heightening those fears.
The disquieting images come from a nursery school in the French town of Tourcoing. On Tuesday, France started opening nursery and primary schools as the government eases home-confinement orders. They show children seated within squares drawn in chalk on a blacktop, classes divided by caution tape, and kids assigned to “X” marks on the ground. TV journalist Lionel Top took the photos and posted them to Twitter on May 12.
Les enfants font leur rentrée aujourd’hui (un petite partie d’entre-eux plutôt).— Lionel Top (@lioneltop) May 12, 2020
Ambiance très étrange, voire dérangeante… pic.twitter.com/g91y5hLatJ
“To ensure respect for distances, while taking advantage of recreation, the teaching team drew squares on the ground for the little ones,” said Top, according to the Mirror. “The children play, dance, jump, laugh together … but from this square. From what we have seen, they do not view it as a punishment.”
Still, the online reaction to the pictures has been one of concern and alarm.
“I can’t get over this,” said historian Laurence de Cock, who shared one of the pictures on Twitter. “This image is heartbreaking. We can’t call this ‘school.’”
Meanwhile, Twitter user Lily wrote, “Just inhuman, shameful for children but also for teachers and institutes! What horror !!!!”
Others declared that future generations will look to these images to understand the COVID-19 crisis. Reddit user u/eksiarvamus wondered “if this is the kind of picture that will be used in those cool historical photo galleries in the 2060s.”
Twitter user Antoine Diot made a similar prediction, saying “The picture of the children in the chalk squares will eventually illustrate this very strange situation in the history books.”
France24 reports that school attendance is not required for the time being, so parents concerned about sending their children to school can continue with remote learning.
Meanwhile, school re-openings remain an open question in the US, as Dr. Anthony Fauci cast doubt on the prospect of colleges welcoming students this fall.
“If this were a situation where we had a vaccine, that would really be the end of that issue in a positive way,” Dr. Fauci said in Senate hearing on the crisis on May 12. “We don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term.”