France to boost anti-terror defences outside schools as students return after summer break

French CRS police stand guard in front of the church a day after a hostage-taking in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy, France.
French CRS police stand guard in front of the church a day after a hostage-taking in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy, France. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - Thousands of police reservists will patrol outside French schools next week as children return to the classroom after a summer overshadowed by two militant attacks, the government announced on Tuesday (Aug 23).

Over 3,000 reservists have been called up to help keep watch outside the country's 64,000 primary and secondary schools for the start of the school year on Sept 1, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

France is on maximum security alert after three large-scale militant attacks that have claimed the lives of over 230 people since January 2015.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which was behind the coordinated attacks on Paris in November, and also claimed last month's truck massacre in Nice, called late last year for attacks on French schools.

A school was already targeted in an Islamist attack in 2012.

Toulouse radical Mohamed Merah shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in his city before being killed by the police.

Mr Cazeneuve said mobile police patrols would be conducted outside schools and universities "throughout the year".

Schools have also been ordered to carry out three security drills a year, with one of them simulating an attacker entering the premises and children being taught how to hide or escape.

School principals will receive more training in handling security emergencies, such as a mass shooting, and more secondary-school students will receive basic first-aid training.

The government has pledged to make 50 million euros available to local authorities to tighten schools' defences, by, for example, installing new alarm and video door phone systems.

The co-head of the main primary school teachers union, Francette Popineau, told AFP the challenge was to strike "the right balance between being in denial and psychosis".

Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said it was "not a question of succumbing to panic or paranoia" but of the government and educators facing up to their responsibilites.