A heart-breaking photograph of nursery school children forced to play in ‘isolation sections’ in French schools has caused shock and outrage.
The photo, taken in the town of Tourcoing on the border with Belgium, shows boys and girls forced to stay away from each other inside areas marked out with chalk.
It comes after three and four-year-olds were allowed to return to classes following two months of lockdown after the French government eased restrictions this week.
‘I can’t get over this,’ said historian Laurence De Cock, who posted the picture on Twitter. ‘This image is heartbreaking. We can’t call this “school”.
Lionel Top, a TV journalist with the BFM news channel, took the photo on Tuesday and said the children had been told to stay in their zones.
Two other photos showed children lining up for lessons by standing or sitting on crosses spray-painted on the floor, and separated in classrooms by tape.
‘To ensure respect for distances, while taking advantage of recreation, the teaching team drew squares on the ground for the little ones,’ he reported.
‘The children play, dance, jump, laugh together … but from this square. From what we have seen, they do not view it as a punishment.’
But other commentators expressed their sadness and anger at a scene which looked like it was out of a ‘horror film’.
‘I’ve never seen such a sad picture,’ said Myriam Cau. ‘It’s horrible to subject children to this.’
Lily, another Twitter user, wrote: ‘Just inhuman, shameful for children but also for teachers and institutes! What horror !!!!’.
Others said it was like a scene from the Halloween series of slasher movies, starring Mike Myers.
And Antoine Diot commented: ‘The picture of the children in the chalk squares will eventually illustrate this very strange situation in the history books.’
A spokesman for the Ministry of Education in Paris said there were no ‘specific instruction’ for teachers to draw chalk squares for their pupils.
But he confirmed that everybody was under instruction to ‘maintain social distancing’ and not to share spaces, playthings or school materials.
Schools across France started to reopen this week as the country emerged from an eight-week lockdown to contain Covid-19.
Teachers are among those who have expressed extreme concern about this, with many parents keeping their children at home.
The latest figures in France show there have been a total of 26,991 deaths from Coronavirus since the start of the crisis, and 140,227 cases of Covid-19.