French teacher acquitted over pupil’s hanging

A court in southern France on Tuesday acquitted a teacher over her involvement in the death of an 11-year-old pupil who was found hanged in a school corridor after being sent out of the class for misbehaving.

French teacher acquitted over pupil's hanging
Agnès Maulard-Lelong, a teacher acquitted on October 29th of manslaughter and another charge, after her 11-year-old pupil was found hanged after being punished by her. Photo: Bertrand Langlois/AFP

A court in Tarascon, in the southern department of Bouches-du-Rhône, on Tuesday acquitted a teacher who had been charged with manslaughter and “neglecting a specific duty of care,” after one of her pupils was found hanged outside her classroom.

Agnès Maulard-Lelong, 42, had risked a five-year jail term and €75,000 ($103,000) in damages for her role in the accidental death of her pupil, 11-year-old Khoren Grimaldi, at the Anne Frank school in nearby Arles, in May 2011.

In the end, however, prosecutor Vincent Mick had himself declined to request a criminal penalty for Maulard Lelong.

He told the court that the relevant French law was too vague to be able to definitively say that the teacher’s “moral responsibility” for the boy’s death clearly translated into a criminal offence.

During her trial last month, Maulard-Lelong first denied, and then appeared to accept, responsibility for the death of Grimaldi, who was found hanged on a coat rack shortly after she had sent him out of class as punishment.

"I don't think I was responsible for Khoren's death," she told the court at the beginning of proceedings on September 24th.

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."

'Go outside with the coats'

On the morning of May 26th 2011, Maulard-Lelong punished Grimaldi, 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 in September.

According to several of the boy’s fellow pupils, however, before sending him out Maulard-Lelong told him: “In the classroom, schoolchildren do work. You aren’t behaving like a school pupil, you’re not working. So go outside with the coats,” according to Le Point.

Some 30 minutes later, Grimaldi asked if he could return to the class, at which point his teacher is reported to have told him: “I don’t want to see you anymore.”

A further 15 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.

'Children cannot be left without surveillance'

Khoren’s parents – Laure and Nicolas Grimaldi – had accused the teacher of an unacceptable lack of surveillance of their son, 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 were 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.

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French pupils protest English exam for being too hard

More than 13,000 French high school pupils have signed a petition calling for the English section of the Baccalaureate exam to be cancelled because of “comprehension difficulties”.

French pupils protest English exam for being too hard
Photo: AFP

It’s that time of year again.

All around France, stressed-out French pupils are taking their end-of-school Baccalaureate exams, and as they did last year, many are complaining that the English portion of the Baccalaureate was just too hard. 

More than 13,000 pupils have signed a petition asking for the English section of the exam to be annulled or for the grading scale to be revised. 

The contested portion of the June 17th exam is Document A, a 21-line extract from 2014 novel The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. 

The text describes a man strolling down the Hudson River while contemplating urbanisation in the borough of Manhattan at the beginning of the 20th century.

Pupils were asked in which city and time period the text was set as well as questioned on the mood and the characters' feelings. 

But students found the extract unfair and too difficult to understand, with many of them apparently not making the connection that Manhattan is located in New York.

“I did not have the geographical and historical knowledge necessary for full understanding of the text,” one petitioner wrote. 

Another wrote: “It’s written English, to assess the level of ENGLISH, not an environmental planning Bac or a geographic or cultural exam.”

However, the following Document B references both Manhattan and New York. 

It turns out not everyone had much sympathy for the pupils' complaints.

Indignant French, including some pupils who took the exam in question, have taken to Twitter to voice their concern for the future of today's youth. 

“Come on guys, stop. You're making us seem like a stupid generation. This petition is ridiculous,” writes the Twitter user below.

“So guys, when an English person speaks to you and you don't understand, are you going to make a petition?” questioned another Twitter user.

The comments section of the petition also included some comments from those who clearly didn't sign it.

“Fortunately not all the youths are like you, that’s to say entitled people who give up at the slightest obstacle,” wrote Adrien Martin.

“Having seen that some idiots dared to make a petition for a subject that’s “too complicated”, I tell myself that the future of our country is uncertain.

“The problem isn’t national education, it’s YOU.” 

This complaint had a familiar ring to it, as last year French pupils took issue with an “impossible” question about Ian McEwan's novel Atonement.

Apparently many had trouble understanding a question that asked how a character was “coping” with a certain situation, arguing that “coping” was not a very common word. 

Perhaps these difficulties shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, as a recent survey ranked France as the worst in the EU at learning English.  

It remains to be seen if and how the Education Minister will respond to the petition, but after a similar outcry in 2014 regarding mathematics and physics-chemistry sections of the Bac, those grading the exams were asked to be lenient.

So are these French pupils just being ridiculous, or should the English portion of the Bac really be cancelled?

Decide for yourself by checking out a copy of the exam here.