Mandatory school attendance amid a pandemic is causing grave concerns among parents.
Rabat – COVID-19 cases in France and Spain are surging as the new school year starts with mandatory physical attendance. France recorded its largest daily increase yet on September 4 with 8,975 new cases while Spain confirmed a record 10,746. Both countries ban gatherings of over ten people, but demand parents send their children to school.
Mandatory school attendance for children over six years old poses a difficult choice for many parents. They can either send their children for in-person education and risk infection, or keep them at home and risk fines or even prison sentences.
Governments across the continent have expressed their desire to reach a relative “return to normal” and see the return of schooling as a key part of that approach. Having children in class ensures that parents are free to go back to work and help boost the economy.
But many parents in France and Spain are unhappy with the enforced political decision of returning their children to a crowded school amid an escalation in COVID-19 case counts. Many fear that their child could contract the virus and bring it into their homes. “Going back to school is being treated like an experiment,” Aroa Miranda, a Spanish mother of two, told France24.
‘We’re like guinea pigs.’
Like many others, Miranda is keeping her children at home despite the law. “For my eight-year-old, I will pretend he’s ill so I don’t have to send him to school,” she said as many fear the repercussions of mandatory attendance.
“It’s just the third day, they’ve just started, and there are already (virus) cases,” Paris-based parent Giancarlo Ambrosini told Reuters. Local epidemics have already forced a dozen French schools to close mere days into the academic year.
Neither country has offered an online alternative to physical attendance.
Parents in Morocco share similar concerns for their children. An image of a packed classroom allegedly photographed Monday went viral and many were shocked when Education Minister Saaid Amzazi vowed measures against those sharing the image. While the government has yet to verify the photograph, it could prompt many parents to opt for remote schooling instead.
The minister’s remarks sparked outrage online, prompting him to clarify that those responsible for the unsafe conditions in the photo would be the target of prosecution.
In Morocco parents have received the option to keep their children out of school amid the COVID-19 pandemic and instead follow online courses if they so choose.
Across the Strait of Gibraltar, however, the Spanish government is considering coercive measures. “I must remind families that education is a human right for pupils, not for their parents,” Spanish Education Minister Isabel Celaa told El Pais. She added that “the authorities are obliged to see this is respected between the ages of six and 16.”
Enrique Ossorio, Madrid’s Minister of Education and Youth, told Radio Nacional de Espana on August 26 that parents faced “between one and three years in prison” if they kept their children out of school.