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French plan to alter school days draws protest

PARIS — For more than a century, the lengthy school days of French children have been punctuated by a midweek day off, in recent decades for most children on Wednesdays, originally created for catechism studies.

The long hours and peculiar weekly rhythm have been criticized as counterproductive to learning and blamed for keeping women out of the full-time workforce, as well as widening inequalities between rich and poor because of the demands they place on working parents. Yet the Wednesday break has remained a fulcrum of French family life.

With all that in mind, the government of President Francois Hollande recently issued a decree introducing a half day of school on Wednesdays for children 3 to 11 years old starting in September, while reducing the school day by 45 minutes the rest of the week. In a country with a broad consensus in favor of shortening a school day that typically runs from 8:30 a.m. to at least 4 p.m. and sometimes longer, his government expected the plan to be less than controversial. It has not worked out that way.

Instead, the edict has sparked a wave of protest from France’s powerful teachers’ unions, parents’ associations and city governments, which say it was produced without their consultation, is short on details and fails to address deeper concerns about the middling performance of French schoolchildren compared with their peers in other industrialized countries. Thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks in protest.

—Nicola Clark, The New York Times

A bipartisan team tackles immigration

It may take strange bedfellows to pass a broad revamping of the immigration system this year. If so, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research group in Washington, appears to have assembled some.

Two Democrats — Henry Cisneros, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton, and Edward G. Rendell, a former governor of Pennsylvania — will join two Republicans — Haley Barbour, a former governor of Mississippi, and Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush’s secretary of state — to lead a new commission with the goal of prodding Congress to act.

Also on staff will be Rebecca Talent, who until recently was Sen. John McCain’s chief of staff, having worked on the immigration issue for more than a decade.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, it was clear that the four leaders of the commission do not yet agree on the details of a comprehensive plan to change the nation’s immigration laws.

Rendell and Cisneros emphasized the need to have a “pathway to citizenship” for the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants, something that Republicans often oppose. Barbour talked about the need for a guest worker program that unions dislike.

—Michael D. Shear, The New York Times

Testing of some deadly diseases on mice mislead, report says

For decades, mice have been the species of choice in the study of human diseases. But now, researchers report stunning evidence that the mouse model has been misleading for at least three major killers — sepsis, burns and trauma. As a result, years and billions of dollars have been wasted following false leads, they say.

The study does not mean that mice are useless models for all human diseases. But, its authors said, it does raise troubling questions about diseases like the ones in the study that involve the immune system, including cancer and heart disease.

“Our article raises at least the possibility that a parallel situation may be present,” said Dr. H. Shaw Warren, a sepsis researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and a lead author of the new study.

The paper, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, helps explain why every one of nearly 150 drugs tested at huge expense in patients with sepsis has failed. The drug tests all were based on studies in mice. And mice, it turns out, have a disease that looks like sepsis in humans but is very different from the human disease. Sepsis afflicts 750,000 patients a year in the United States, kills a quarter to half of them and costs the nation $17 billion a year. It is the leading cause of death in intensive-care units.

—Gina Kolata, The New York Times

In a replay for Connecticut, storm comes, power goes

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Few of the people parading around the streets with snow shovels on Sunday needed any reminder of the region’s string of natural disasters in recent years: Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and a rare pre-Halloween snowstorm. But as parts of the state dug out from three feet or more of snow, there was no avoiding it.

Connecticut was hardly alone in being buried in the snow, but it seemed to suffer the worst of the storm. While much of the prestorm concerns centered on eastern Massachusetts, no area was hit harder than Connecticut, where the town of Hamden took top snowfall honors: 40 inches.

Five of the 11 deaths attributed to the storm in the Northeast occurred in Connecticut. By Sunday evening, Connecticut Light and Power said it had restored service to more than 60,000 customers. Fewer than 7,000 customers remained without power, most of them in the southeastern corner of the state.

President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for Connecticut, the fifth such instance in the two-plus years Dannel P. Malloy has been governor, a wearying tape loop of natural chaos. With communities largely paralyzed by unplowed streets and stalled motorists, residents in New Haven, Hamden, West Haven and East Haven were warned to stay home Monday. Major employers have announced they will be closed. In some areas in the eastern part of the state it could be several days before all streets are plowed.

—Peter Applebome and Elizabeth Maker, The New York Times