France: Teacher Murdered by Student’s Mother in Front of Class


A kindergarten teacher in France was stabbed to death in front of her class by the mother of one of her students. The murder occurred on Friday at approximately 9:00 a.m., soon after the beginning of the school day on the last day of the school year.

French Minister of Education Benoit Hamon revealed that the attacker suffered from “serious psychiatric problems.” According to prosecutor Claude Derens, life-saving efforts were administered on site, and the teacher was in cardiac arrest when he arrived. The attacker was taken into police custody immediately after the fatal stabbing, and school officials evacuated the premises.

Homicidal violence is very rare in French schools, and Friday’s stabbing, which took place in front of a classroom filled with children aged five and six, caused the president of France, Francois Hollande, to express his outrage, while Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that he was “dismayed.”  The school in which the murder occurred is located in Albi, in the south of France. The primary school has a total attendance of 284 students whose ages range from three to 11.

According to Hamon, the child of the arrested woman had attended the school for less than two months. The woman herself had been mostly unknown to Edouard Herriot school officials until the incident on Friday, and no definite reason for the murder has been given by either police or city officials. Authorities have also not revealed whether the woman’s own child witnessed the attack against the teacher, 34-year-old Fabienne Terral-Calmes, who herself had two young daughters. The 5-year-old daughter of the attacker was placed into protective custody on Friday.

A member of the Education Ministry’s regional health and safety committee, Marie-Odile-Gay, revealed that the mother may have been under the misconception that the teacher had accused her daughter of stealing, and that perhaps that may have been the motivation for the attack. Gay also disclosed that the 47-year-old woman had undergone mental health therapy in the past.  Police in France had also investigated the woman earlier in the year for the abandonment of her son, 15.

Only one day prior to the attack, a study by the INSEE state statistics agency was released that found that those who worked in the French education system were two times more likely than other French professionals to be threatened and verbally abused. The report also detailed that 12 percent of French education professionals had been the victim of such attacks, but only 0.6 percent were actually physically assaulted. Teachers younger than 30 were most likely to be the subject of verbal attacks.

In the wake of Friday’s incident, some teachers expressed their thought that more attention by the Education Ministry to the sometimes strained relationships between parents and teachers may have helped to prevent Friday’s murder, but due to staff cuts, teachers had been left in a more vulnerable position. Robert Couffignal, a teacher with the regional teachers union, refuted that, saying that Friday’s incident had been simply an isolated incident and urged caution in the face of rash decisions regarding upgraded security. Couffignal believes that measures such as the installation of metal detectors in schools will not help, but that the schools should foster environments in which parents and teachers trust in one another.

By Jennifer Pfalz

New York Times
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