Pupils get help after teacher’s self-immolation

A psychological crisis cell was treating shocked students at a high school in southern France on Friday after a depressed maths teacher dramatically set herself on fire in the playground.

The school’s principal said the teacher remained in “very worrying” condition after her suicide attempt on Thursday, as teachers’ unions said her desperate act highlighted their difficult working conditions.

The 44-year-old teacher, whom French media have identified only as Lise B., doused herself in petrol during the morning break and set herself alight, a day after a stormy meeting with children in her class who found her teaching methods too strict, witnesses said.

Christian Philip, the principal at Jean Moulin secondary school in Beziers, southern France, said the school had reopened its doors on Friday morning but that classes remained suspended until at least Monday.

Traumatised students were being assisted by a psychological crisis cell, he said, and about 80 students had already been treated. The cell was to stay in place until at least Tuesday.

Philip said the state of the teacher’s health was “still very worrying” but he had no further details on her condition.

Local prosecutor Patrick Mathe meanwhile said an initial investigation had found “no criminal act” connected with the incident.

In a joint statement, unions representing secondary school teachers said the incident underscored the hardships facing teachers and called for a public debate on working conditions.

Noting the “significance of the choice of the workplace to commit this desperate act,” the unions called on Education Minister Luc Chatel to organise public consultations on “the realities of (teachers’) work.”

“We must be aware of what is being called teachers’ fatigue, of professional problems, of the suffering at work that, while we see it in other professions, is more and more present within the education system,” the unions said.

The teacher suffered third-degree burns and was taken from the school — a huge institution housing 3,000 students and 280 teachers — by helicopter to a specialist unit in the city of Montpellier’s university teaching hospital.

Parents and pupils who spoke to AFP at the scene Thursday said the teacher had a difficult relationship with several pupils in her maths class and that a meeting with them to clear the air on Wednesday had become rowdy.

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Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules

Around three-quarters of French teachers plan to go on strike onThursday to protest the government's shifting rules on Covid testing for students, forcing the closure of half the country's primary schools, a union said Tuesday.

Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules
Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

The strike led by the Snuipp-FSU union, the largest among primary school teachers, comes after the latest of several changes on testing and isolation requirements for potential Covid cases announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex late Monday.

After seeing long lines of parents outside pharmacies and labs in recent days to test children in classes where a case was detected, Castex said home tests could now be used to determine if a student could return to school.

But teachers say class disruptions have become unmanageable with the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

“Students cannot learn properly because attendance varies wildly, and a hybrid of in-house and distance learning is impossible to put in place,” the Snuipp-FSU said, adding that absent teachers are not being replaced.

It is also demanding the government provide facemasks for staff, including the more protective FFP2 masks, and CO2 monitors to check if classrooms are sufficiently ventilated.

“Not only does the current protocol not protect students, staff or their families, it has completely disorganised schools,” the union said, claiming that classes have effectively been turned into “daycare centres.”

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has said the government is doing everything possible to avoid outright school closures that could cause havoc for parents and jeopardise learning for thousands, especially those in low-income families.

“I know there is a lot of fatigue, of anxiety… but you don’t go on strike against a virus,” Blanquer told BFM television on Tuesday.

As of Monday some 10,000 classes had been shut nationwide because of Covid cases, representing around two percent of all primary school classes, Blanquer said.