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Fury as French teens get ‘suicide note’ homework

The parents of a class of young teenagers in northern France have reacted with shock after their children came home with a disturbing homework assignment. Their French teacher had asked them to write a suicide note.

Fury as French teens get 'suicide note' homework
File photo: Cali4beach/Flickr

A class of 12-year-olds at the Louis-Bouland de Couloisy school in the Oise department in northern France were told by their French teacher to compose a suicide note as a writing assignment, according to a report in French daily Le Parisien on Friday.

“John wrote a letter to his wife before carrying out his plan. Devise that letter,” said the assignment, shown to Le Parisien, before presenting a fictional description of the couple’s life and the aftermath of the man’s suicide.

The exercise has disgusted some parents, who have questioned the wisdom of presenting such a sensitive subject to young teenagers at a difficult time in their development.

One father explained: “My daughter came home from school on Tuesday evening and announced to us that [for her homework] she had to put herself in the position of a man who had killed himself, and write his suicide note. It’s absurd!” said the man, whose name has been changed to Nicolas.

For its part, the school has refused to comment publicly, but did hold an information meeting for the parents of the pupils in question, on Thursday evening.

Schools inspector for the Oise department, Elisabeth Laporte, has opened an internal investigation, but cautioned against judgment.

“You have to put this in context,” she told Le Parisien. “The account was a humorous piece of writing which was the subject of an assignment. But undoubtedly it could appear inappropriate or insensitive,” she said.

Nonetheless, Nicolas and his wife have notified police about the incident. “In light of all the stories about suicide becoming more widespread among young people, I don’t see what’s so funny about it,” he said.

This is not the first occasion a French teacher has assigned a suicide note as a writing exercise. In December, a teacher in western France was suspended after she instructed a class of 13 and 14-year-olds to "describe your self-disgust" in a final letter.

Reacting to this week's incident in Oise, child psychiatrist Stéphane Clerget said on Friday  that while she understands the concerns of parents, the subject of suicide should not be treated as off-limits for young people.

"Their reactions reveal the anxiety that parents can have about the risk of suicide among adolescents. Must we never talk about suicide, though?" she told French daily Le Figaro.

"In particular, it's imperative that this kind of incident doesn't cover up the real causes of suicide among young people," Clerget said.

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EDUCATION

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.

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