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SCHOOL

Pupil found hanged after being sent out of class

A schoolteacher went on trial in southern France on Tuesday, charged with manslaughter over an incident where one of her pupils, aged 11, was found hanged in the corridor, after she called him “useless” and sent him out of the classroom.

Pupil found hanged after being sent out of class
A French teacher went on trial on September 24th, charged with manslaughter after a pupil she had called "useless" was found hanged outside the classroom. File photo: Paula Rey

A court in southern France witnessed moments of high drama on Tuesday, as a 42-year-old teacher first denied, and then appeared to accept, responsibility for the death of an 11-year-old pupil who was found hanged shortly after she had sent him out of class.

The schoolteacher went on trial in the southern city of Tarascon, charged with manslaughter and “neglecting a specific duty of care,” after the pupil, Khoren, whom she had punished, was later found hanged on a coat rack outside the classroom.

"I don't think I was responsible for Khoren's death," the accused told the court at the beginning of Tuesday's proceedings.

Questioned by a prosecutor later on, however, as to whether she felt "morally responsible for his death," the teacher replied: "Yes," before turning to the boy's parents in court and saying, "I'm sorry."

On the morning of May 26th 2011, the teacher at the school in Arles, in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, punished 11-year-old Khoren, known as a bright but mischievous boy, for misbehaving in class.

She told him: “You’re useless, go and join the coats [outside],” according to the victim’s family’s lawyer, speaking to TF1 television.

Some 45 minutes later, Khoren was found hanging by his t-shirt from a coat rack in the hallway, in a state of cardiac arrest. 

Teachers in the school made immediate CPR efforts before transporting Khoren to Timone hospital in nearby Marseille.

He died four days later, having never regained consciousness.

It is not believed the boy was driven to despair and deliberately committed suicide, but rather that a dark joke gone wrong was at the heart of his tragic death.

“When he was told ‘Go and join the coats’, he might have been trying to hang himself up [on the rack], like a coat, just to make his classmates laugh,” the family’s lawyer explained.

The autopsy would support that tragic theory, since it found that the cause of Khoren’s death was a “cerebral oedema,” whereby the compression of his carotid artery cut off the blood flow to his brain.

The boy’s parents are in no doubt as to where to point the finger of blame for the son’s death, and plan to sue the state, for what they see as an unacceptable lack of surveillance of Khoren, during his time outside the classroom that morning.

“Khoren was left for 45 minutes without surveillance, and he also came back to the classroom twice to ask if he could go back in again,” said the family’s lawyer.

“The rules in place in this region say that children cannot be left without surveillance. And when a child is punished, that surveillance needs to be stepped up even more,” he added.

The little boy’s parents will be a civil party to the trial, to make sure “this doesn’t happen again.”

“The family expects from this trial that rules on the surveillance of children will get firmer, and that teachers will get additional training on it,” said the lawyer.

The judge in Tuesday's proceedings told the court the teacher had shown "a deficient duty to monitor [the pupil]", but that this was merely a "simple mistake." 

He did, however, condemn both the defendant and the school for their "lack of humanity," in the way they handled Khoren's death, reinstalling the teacher to her job after just a month's suspension.

No verdict was reached on Tuesday, and the judge deferred the case until October 29th. 

Though none have had such tragic results, this is only the latest in a series of incidents which have led to French teachers appearing in court.

On Monday, a female English teacher was given a suspended eight-month prison sentence after being found guilty of "sexual assault of a minor under 15 years of age by a person in a position of authority” and “making sexual propositions to a minor by electronic means.”

The unmarried teacher had a romantic affair with a then 14-year-old girl that began back in September 2011, according to a judicial source quoted by regional daily La Voix du Nord, and was described as consensual by both parties, according to reports.

In February, a French teacher was arrested after allegedly trying to extort €10,000 from parents whose son he threatened with expulsion for throwing a piece of scrunched up paper at his face.

The alleged scam came to light after a disciplinary committee decided last month to expel the boy.

"The father said to the committee 'I don't understand why he is being expelled when I'm paying so that he isn't'," said Bernard Beffy, prosecutor in the northern town of Avesnes-sur-Helpe.

In February 2012, a French teacher was hauled before court after admitting he had drunkenly slapped three of his young pupils at a school in northern France.

The man was given a two-year suspended jail sentence, banned from teaching for two years, and ordered to pay a €900 fine and attend alcohol addiction counselling.

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EDUCATION

School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents

The number of school and class closures in France has increased, the education minister reported on Wednesday, but the government has relaxed the rules for parents sending children back to class.

School closures rise in France as government relaxes rules for parents
Children over 11 in France have to wear masks during the school day. Photo: AFP

A total of 81 establishments and 2,100 individual classes have closed after discovering Covid-19 cases on their premises.

The number was a rise on the figures last week when 28 schools and 524 individual classes were closed.

“We have around 1,200 new Covid cases among pupils compared with last week,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told the LCI channel on Wednesday.

“We shut down a class as soon as there are three cases,” he said.

Blanquer noted that the closures represent just a small fraction of the 60,000 schools across France, calling the beginning of the new school year “the best possible given the health crisis.”

 

French officials have warned nonetheless that new restrictions might be required to stem a worrying increase in coronavirus cases since August.

IN NUMBERS: How fast are France's Covid-19 rates increasing?

No more official sick notes

Despite the surge in cases registered in schools, children with Covid-19 symptoms will no longer need to provide a doctor's sick note (une attestation) to return to class, Blanquer told BFMTV on Tuesday evening.

Instead, parents will need to fill in what in French is called an attestation sur l'honneur, a written document signed by the parent, stating either that the child tested negative for the virus, or a doctor has ruled out that the child has Covid-19.

READ ALSO: The vocabulary you need to fill in French forms (including the coronavirus 'attestation')

This followed a series of complaints from medical establishments across the country that they were overwhelmed with demands for sick notes and that parents were sending children with very light symptoms such as runny noses to get checked up.

According to the new rules, children who are identified as contact cases must get tested for the virus seven days after their last contact with the confirmed case. If the result comes back negative, the child can go back to class provided that a parent has provided a signed written attestation saying that the test came back negative. No proof for the test result will be required. 

A child with Covid-19 symptoms can also return to class if this attestation indicates that a doctor has ruled out the virus as cause for the symptoms, without providing any proof for the medical appointment.

The new health protocol will be updated and published on the education ministry's website shortly.

READ ALSO: The French school vocab parents need

 
'Chomage partiel'

Parents affected by the school closures can access to the partial unemployment scheme bolstered by the government at the beginning of the lockdown in March to help businesses foot their employees' salaries to prevent mass layoffs.

Those concerned will “benefit from income reimbursement from the first day of their stoppage of work, and at the latest until the end of the period of isolation,” the health ministry said in a statement.

Only one parent per household will be eligible for the help scheme, and only if they can document that their child's school or nursery closed down due to Covid-19, or that their child has been identified as a contact-case.

Higher education 

Late Tuesday, the University of Montpellier in southern France said it had suspended classes at its medical school after some 60 students tested positive after a party.

The University of Rennes in western France also suspended classes for second- and third-year medical students this week after 83 tested positive.

The government has placed 82 of the country's 101 departments on red alert, and officials in Bordeaux and Marseille this week tightened restrictions on public gatherings and retirement home visits after seeing a surge in new Covid-19 cases. 

READ ALSO: Why are Bordeaux and Marseille facing tougher Covid-19 restrictions but not Paris

 
 
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