The misleading story of French children and the “three tokens to breathe” without a mask at school

A video circulates where it is claimed in France that children are given 3 tokens a day to breathe without a mask at school. According to the story, the same tokens would be used to go to the bathroom and if they were all used they had to hold back the pee. Although shared in recent days, this story is not recent as it circulated at the beginning of 2021, once again being told in an incomplete and misleading way. We remind you that the correct use of masks are of fundamental importance in the fight against the spread of Sars-Cov-2 and Covid-19.

For those in a hurry

  • The video of the child was partially released, omitting useful information to understand the facts.
  • This is not a standard practice, but used in a French private school.
  • Both the child’s mother and the school management explain the missing context to the French journalists of 20Minutes.
  • The tokens were white beans, they didn’t have 3 but 10 and they could increase or decrease according to the correct behavior held in class.
  • The system was used well before the obligation of masks in French schools, with the aim of enticing students to go to the bathroom as a group to have a chat instead of being careful in class.
  • In any case, even in the absence of white beans, children could go to the bathroom if they needed to.

Analyses

Here is one of the posts, published on November 13, 2021, obtaining over 5,000 shares, where the video (also dated) by Massimo Mazzucco is published which states the following:

He is a French child, who says that at school – practically – they give him for every school day, morning and afternoon, they have three tokens, that is, practically three good ones, which they can choose to use either to go to pee or to go out into the courtyard for a moment to take off the mask and breathe.

[…]

Here, this is what we are doing to the new generations. Other than Dragons etcetera etcetera, this is a generation of children that one day … that is … that will grow up with the idea that in order to breathe fresh air you have to give something, you have to pay something, or you have to pee on yourself because the last token you have to keep it good to go and breathe a little because you can’t take it anymore with the mask.

The video of the child is subtitled. Here is the text of the transcription translated into Italian:

We have tokens like that. Like triangles.
How many do you have?
Three.
Three a day?
Yes per day.
And what are these tokens for?
For example, if I use this token to pee… I don’t have it anymore. After I can take off the mask and go outside… and I don’t have it anymore.
To go where?
Out. If I want to pee, or go out again, I don’t have any for the whole day. If I want to do all these things in the morning, I can’t do them anymore in the afternoon.
That is, if you want to go out in the afternoon to breathe, you have no more tokens to do so.
No, I don’t have any more.
Have you tried asking for a fourth time yet?
No, because I always keep at least one token.
So, in general, if you need to breathe you have to give a token to go outside… to go to the courtyard, take off your mask and breathe a little?
And.
Were there any children who use tokens to go out, lower their masks and breathe?
Yes. Almost all of them.

An incomplete story

The video went viral in early 2021, but was initially released in a private group in November 2020 by the child’s mother, Roxane, to challenge the initiative of the private school where her son was enrolled.

However, the video circulated online, outside the group, is partial. To explain it are the colleagues of 20Minutes (twice, here and here) that they had come into contact with the mother and the principal of the private institution. The complete shot contained additional information, provided by Roxane to the French journalists: the tokens were white beans, the children had 10 and earned more depending on how they behaved. An example? As for the masks, if you wore it incorrectly (under the nose) you would lose 3 beans, on the contrary you would gain.

A system introduced before Covid

The Dean of the private school, contacted by colleagues from 20Minutes, explained that such a system was previously implemented to manage permissions to go to the bathroom. The reason? Avoid having children go out in groups to have a chat instead of paying attention in class. A similar system was also used in Belgium in 2018.

What happened if the white beans ran out? Do they have to hold it back or have it on? The Headmaster denies a 20Minutes this rumor, explaining that children could go to the bathroom whenever they need to.

The system, already in force, but following the introduction of the mandatory template in the classes, it was decided to adapt it also for its correct use.

The objection of the parents

Roxane explains the reasons for her protest against the school to 20Minutes reporters. She had sent a letter to the Dean to contest the use of the mask, as she considered it “a den of microbes” and that it would be necessary to use a FFP2 as it guarantees real protection compared to the others.

With regard to the “microbes” issue, we had dealt with the theme in an article from 2020: «First of all, you need to use them correctly, wearing them and taking them off as explained by various tutorials such as that of the Veronesi Foundation».

In our Open Fact-checking special “Do the masks hurt? Answers to readers’ questions against disinformation”We explained some of the issues contested by the so-called No Masks, especially that linked to carbon dioxide and the fact that these cannot cause hypercapnia or even cancer.

In our 2020 special we report the articles of the year regarding misinformation on masks:

Conclusions

Those who told the story incorrectly relied on a partial video, cropped from the original one. The story was told by the same mother of the child who, together with the explanations of the school, showed a different reality from the one spread on social networks.

This article contributes to a Facebook project to fight fake news and disinformation on its social platforms. Read who for more information on our partnership with Facebook.

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