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Terror in Europe

New Security Measures In French Schools May Be Going Too Far

Since the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, reams of new government safety measures and orders have been issued to schools, where teachers say the atmosphere is tense and their responsibilities overwhelming.

School time in France
School time in France
Aurélie Collas

PARIS — Since the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, French schools have changed. Before entering, everyone's identity and bags are systematically checked. Students and parents can no longer linger, or park, outside the main entrances. Before the Christmas holidays, all pupils had to take part in two security exercises: a fire drill and a "lockdown" scenario.

All these measures are part of a stream of orders given since the November attacks. A new memorandum, released on Dec. 17, completed the arsenal of preparations. Written by the ministries of national education and of the interior, it has planned, among other things, first aid "awareness" courses for teachers, pupils and their families starting in February.

Boards of education will be required to establish "crisis management units" and must take an inventory of the cellphone numbers of the school principals in order to be able to warn them in real-time during crisis situations.

Specific threat

In the weeks to come, there will be new measures to protect "particularly vulnerable areas" at schools. In Paris, authorities may soon develop "assault warning buttons," video-protection installations, double-door entrances or protective windows.

The increased measures follow an ISIS death threat to teachers in the terrorist organization's online magazine at the end of November, and explicit requests from parents groups for added security.

Still, there are doubts within schools about whether all this is feasible. "Since the attacks, authorities have been putting pressure on us," says the head teacher of a school in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. "It's hard to live with at school because it creates a tense atmosphere. We're always on the lookout for new alerts."

Sébastien Shir, secretary general of the main teachers' union for grammar schools, says that the feeling is widespread. "Schools have received ministerial memos, departmental memos, administrative memos, each one taking the measures up a notch, as if everyone wanted to protect themselves (from criticism)," he says. The union estimates that the head teacher of a school in the Hauts-de-Seine department, near Paris, has received 150 pages of instructions since the attacks.

In some departments, the ministerial order to carry out "random" checks on bags at school entrances has evolved into an obligation to check all bags. In others, even parents of kindergarteners are no longer allowed to walk with their children into the school, instead required to drop them off outside the entrance.

"The difficulty is reconciling security and school culture, which is supposed to be a welcoming and open place," Shir says. "Principals and teachers aren't security agents. Everything cannot rest on their shoulders."

Under desks

In some places, parents have complained about the security exercises police have ordered. In Yohan's Paris school (his name has been changed), where he is in the first grade, the exercise lasted 15 minutes. In the classroom, with the lights off and complete silence, the pupils stayed down on the floor under their desks. "With a teacher telling them, "If ever terrorists enter the school… "" the mother of the young boy says. She was troubled when her son came home and told her that he was "scared they'll kick the door in and kill us."

The outraged mother says, "I'm stunned by the complete lack of perspective from the teacher."

This type of exercise isn't new and was originally meant to protect students from various potential events: storms, floods or industrial accidents. But since Nov. 13, the "attack or exterior intrusion" risk has been added to the list. Many head teachers make sure they adapt what they tell students to the age of the children.

One head teacher didn't want to include the children in the exercise. "I only held a meeting with the teachers and reminded everybody of their duties," she says. "The pupils are already affected by what happened, and I preferred not overdoing it."

Philippe Tournier, the secretary general of SNPDEN, a principals' union, says no measure will enable schools to cope with such extreme situations. "Except surrounding schools with fortifications and sandbags."

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Will Winter Crack The Western Alliance In Ukraine?

Kyiv's troops are facing bitter cold and snow on the frontline, but the coming season also poses longer term political questions for Ukraine's allies. It may be now or never.

Ukraine soldier in winer firing a large canon with snow falling

Ukraine soldier firing a large cannon in winter.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — Weather is a weapon of war. And one place where that’s undoubtedly true right now is Ukraine. A record cold wave has gripped the country in recent days, with violent winds in the south that have cut off electricity of areas under both Russian and Ukrainian control. It's a nightmare for troops on the frontline, and survival itself is at stake, with supplies and movement cut off.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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This is the reality of winter warfare in this part of Europe, and important in both tactical and strategic terms. What Ukraine fears most in these circumstances are Russian missile or drone attacks on energy infrastructures, designed to plunge civilian populations into cold and darkness.

The Ukrainian General Staff took advantage of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's visit to Kyiv to ask the West to provide as many air defense systems as possible to protect these vital infrastructures. According to Kyiv, 90% of Russian missile launches are intercepted; but Ukraine claims that Moscow has received new weapon deliveries from North Korea and Iran, and has large amounts of stocks to strike Ukraine in the coming weeks.

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