A bitter dispute over Covid precautions in French schools turned into a political scandal on Tuesday as the local news media reported that the country’s education minister had been vacationing on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza while a contentious new testing protocol took shape.
The minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, has led efforts to keep France’s schools open in the face of a sharp rise in cases caused by the Omicron variant, but parents, teachers and school employees have complained that the rules in force are confusing and change too often.
A walkout in schools last week over that and related issues was one of the largest in decades, and another is planned for Thursday.
Mr. Blanquer announced new coronavirus measures for school in an interview with the newspaper Le Parisien on Jan. 2 — during the weekend before schools resumed after their Christmas break, which left schools and students little time to adjust. Mr. Blanquer said last week that he had acted at the last minute because the ministry needed time to consult with the health authorities to ensure that the plans reflected a rapidly changing situation.
Then, on Monday evening, the investigative news website Mediapart reported that Mr. Blanquer had not been monitoring the situation from France when the protocol was announced — instead, it reported, he was on a vacation for several days in Ibiza, a sunny Spanish resort island known for its beaches and party scene.
Although he did not violate any travel restrictions, Mr. Blanquer acknowledged to lawmakers in Parliament on Tuesday that his choice of destination was misguided.
“Would the decisions have been any different if I had been elsewhere? No,” Mr. Blanquer said, though he added that he should have chosen another vacation spot.
“I regret the symbolism,” Mr. Blanquer said, noting that his priority was keeping schools open. “That is what is crucial. Let us not get lost in the ancillary.”
The matter prompted indignant reactions on social media, where a 2018 video of Mr. Blanquer awkwardly DJing in an elementary school classroom was repurposed to mock him.
Political opponents pounced, with many on the left calling for Mr. Blanquer’s resignation and teachers’ unions expressing dismay that Mr. Blanquer was on vacation even as teachers and headmasters were still in the dark over the upcoming protocol.
“There is really a gap between what Ibiza represents and what our colleagues were going through every day on the eve of the return to classes,” Guislaine David, a spokeswoman for the SNUipp-FSU, a teachers’ union, told Franceinfo radio on Tuesday.
France’s government offered support for Mr. Blanquer on Tuesday, saying that he had been heavily involved in setting up the protocol and that his vacation arrangements were in line with informal rules dictating that ministers should not vacation too far from Paris.