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Heartbreaking photo shows French preschoolers playing in chalk squares

The photo provides a glimpse of what schools may look like post-lockdown.
/ Source: TODAY

A heartbreaking photo of French children playing in individual chalk squares provides a glimpse of what schools may look like post-lockdown.

Local reporter Lionel Top captured the picture at preschool in Tourcoing, France, and shared it on Twitter, where it has gone viral with nearly 15,000 retweets.

“There was this sadness,” Top told TODAY Parents.

Approximately 1.5 million preschool and elementary school students returned to class on Tuesday, after nearly two months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related story: When will schools open? See a state-by-state list

On Twitter, Top described the atmosphere on the playground as “very strange, even disturbing,” but said the youngsters did not seem bothered by the social distancing.

“They laughed and played together but from far away,” Top told TODAY Parents. “The pupils did not see it like a punishment.”

It’s harder for the adults, Top said. In a tweet, he recalled how a teacher said it made her feel queasy to see.

Thousands of people have commented on Top’s powerful image.

“I can’t get over this,” historian Laurence De Cock replied. “This image is heartbreaking. We can’t call this ‘school.’”

Another person wrote in part, “children will be more traumatized to resume in these conditions then to stay home.”

Top understands the outrage, but told TODAY Parents chalk squares may be the only way to get 3- and 4-year-olds to respect social distancing guidelines.

Children in the Normandy town of Val-de-Reuil are also adjusting to a new way of life, which includes lunch in class, staggered recess and temperature checks. They are also required to wear a protective visor, according to the Val-de-Reuil Twitter account.

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