Strikes Over? Now Here’s Your Homework

Striking students who blockaded schools in many parts of France during the recent anti-government pension protests, keeping teachers and non-strikers from class ahead of half-term, are now learning about payback.

Schools were emptied in late October when pupils joined protestors on anti-pension reform marches in main centres. Now they find they have some special homework to do.

According to the Rue89 newspaper the leaders of the blockade at the Lycée Galilée de Combs-la-Ville, Seine et Marne (a southern Paris suburb) have been identified and assigned special homework clearly aimed at testing their knowledge of recent “practical lab classes in the street”.

To the amusement of some and the disdain of others, depending, we assume on how militant the affected school strikers were, the ringleaders and other supporters of direct action have been ordered by teachers to deliver essays on the following subjects and been told they will count towards their exam marks:

  • “A brief history in fifty lines, of the French pay-as-you-earn pension system since 1946.”
  • “Describe the current pension systems in place in the following European countries: the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and then do the same for China and the United States.”
  • “Using your mathematical skills produce a paper showing in graphs and description, the trends in life expectancy in France between 1946 and 2010.”
  • “Describe in precisely thirty lines of text the proposed 2010 pension reforms (against which you were protesting).” and finally:
  • “Write an essay on the subject: ‘Does retirement in a labour force necessarily lead to access to a job for a younger person?”

And these pupils should consider themselves lucky. Some of their colleagues told the paper they had been gated and given other more severe punishments.

Citing school rules which include a clause about hindering the proper performance of the school, at least ten students at this same Lycée were gated for 48 hours, according to a report in Le Parisien.

One displeased pupil told Rue89:

“I was not one of the leaders of the blockade. All I did was sit on a dustbin. We were photographed and identified after the event, but we were not aggressive. “

His and other strikers’s parents all received a letter from the School Head Mme. I. Robin explaining the punishments imposed:

“I regret to inform you that your son will be excluded from school from Monday 8 November to Tuesday, 9 November inclusive for the following reason: organising a blockade of the school.” (Download the letter here) The severity of this punishment should not be underestimated, it will be noted on his school record and should he prove to be a recidivist he may be summoned to appear before a school disciplinary hearing.”

Even though the strikers were not allowed to attend class, their schoolwork followed them home ensuring they were under no illusions about enjoying a late lie-in and loaf about.

During the 48 hours of exclusion, the pupils were instructed to complete assignments and homework covering, French, Economics, Law and English … with enough work to keep them busy for a good fifteen hours non stop including the essay topics above.

The school itself played down the punishments meted out telling Rue89: “Sanctions have been very moderate, and they are expunged from the school record at the end of the year.”

For his part, the Créteil schools inspector, Jacques Marchal, discussing the actions taken told Rue89: “It does not seem excessive given that these students compromised the safety of their colleagues around the school, particularly because of the presence of youngsters entering the grounds with bad intentions. The fact that there was a political motive involved in the school blockade does not change the responsibility of the School Head to ensure the safety of all pupils.”

Elsewhere similar payback was treated with a more robust response by some affected students.

A member of the Fédération indépendante et démocratique lycéenne (FIDL) said the school authorities had not taken the blockades lightly: “There has been a lot of pressure on the parents of gated students. They were contacted individually by school authorities who threatened the children with a disciplinary council.”

Indeed according to Le Parisien, the School Head at Lycée Galilée de Combs-la-Ville identified the leaders of the movement, from discussions on Facebook groups and from photos taken by the staff.

Following the punishments meted out at Galilée de Combs-la-Ville , student unions quizzed members through social networks like Facebook and Twitter and learned of disciplinary action taken in several high schools across France against organisers of local blockades. FIDL said by last Thursday, it had recorded “100 cases of high school leaders or organisers of blockades being gated from lessons.”

Members of the l’Union nationale lycéenne (UNL) complained of a range of sanctions against their members. Quentin Delorme, UNL General Secretary said: “Many school principals refused to accept the protests as a reason for pupils to be absent from class and some students were marked down as absent without an excuse note even though their parents had allowed them to stay away. We also learnt about exclusions for several days on sometimes quite wacky grounds such as ‘incivility’. We had a lot of calls from private schools and boarding schools, where striking students were punished by being denied access to the canteen for example. “

Among punishments reported, was that of Julien, a pupil at Lycée Edouard-Branly in Lyon. Julian says he returned to school after two days of manning the blockade at end October. “Everything went well until Wednesday morning [27 October], when the school authorities became much more aggressive. They blocked the passage, so we sat down and they then accused us of being violent. Then the principal picked me out and said I was gated. He accused me being arrogant when I started to use the formal “vous” form of address to him. It was very clear that I and four or five others were picked on because we were leaders.”

Pascale Roussillon, his mother, later received a letter formalising her son’s two day-exclusion just before half term: “I received a letter telling me of my son’s temporary exclusion on grounds of ‘disloyalty’ because he ‘put up barriers and trash cans outside the school gate to stop others entering. “

The UNL also reported collective punishment at the Firminy School in the Loire where allegedly all students who went off on the demo were marked as absent without an excuse even though some parents had signed excuse notes.

Ah yes mes enfants, May 1968 is included in your history syllabus but perhaps you didn’t read to the end , to that bit about retribution? What one wonders would the reaction have been on UK campuses to any similar disciplinary efforts following the trashing of property near parliament by angry students?

Story: Ken Pottinger

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