A teacher at a Catholic school in France was suspended yesterday after he expressed fears that he may become ‘the next Samuel Paty’ for alleged racist remarks against Muslim students.
The eco-management teacher from Joseph-Wresinski d’Angers Catholic School was accused of racism by a Muslim student, who alleges the teacher invited him to ‘change his religion’ after declaring that Muslims are a problem in Catholic schools.
The student lodged a formal complaint against the teacher – who has not yet been named – with Angers police on December 2, two days after the teacher’s alleged remarks.
The teacher lodged a complaint in return the next day, arguing the student was guilty of ‘physical and verbal violence towards a person in the course of public service’ as he pushed past him and accused him of racism.
The school yesterday suspended the teacher as a precaution after he expressed fears he would become ‘the next Samuel Paty’ – a history teacher who was murdered by an Islamist teenager on October 16, 2020, after he depicted a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson about free speech.
An investigation into the complaints has now been launched, according to Angers public prosecutor Public prosecutor Eric Bouillard.
An eco-management teacher from Joseph-Wresinski d’Angers Catholic School (pictured) has been accused of racism by a Muslim student and subsequently suspended pending an investigation
The teacher, who has not been named, expressed fears that he would become ‘the next Samuel Paty’ – a history teacher who was murdered outside a school near Paris in October 2020 for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson (undated picture of Paty)
Schoolchildren wearing protective face masks, arrive to pay tribute to Samuel Paty, the French teacher who has beheaded on the streets of the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, at the Anne Franck college in Plescop, France, November 2, 2020
The saga began during a school lesson on November 30, when students in the class said the teacher began to digress while talking about Catholic schools of the past.
The teacher allegedly remarked: ‘Catholic schools should have continued to only accept Catholic students,’ but was met with a defence from a member of the class who, pointed at a Muslim classmate and responded ‘but Catholic schools aren’t just reserved for Catholics.’
According to the Muslim student’s testimony, the teacher then bit back by saying,’ that’s the problem’, before turning on him and saying ‘well, he could always change his religion’.
A portrait of French teacher Samuel Paty is displayed on the facade of the Opera Comedie in Montpellier on October 21, 2020, during a national homage to the teacher who was beheaded for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in class.
The Muslim student was infuriated by the teacher’s response and stormed out of the class, allegedly pushing past the teacher and yelling ‘racist!’ as he exited.
The teacher meanwhile has admitted to ‘inviting Muslims to join us and become Catholic’, but said that the remark was intended as humour and simply ‘did not go down well with the class’.
He argued that the comments were made during a discussion about France’s legal history, of which Catholicism and Christianity constituted a major part, and that they were made in jest, not as part of a discriminatory attack on Muslim students.
‘I have been teaching for 27 years, and this is the first time that I have faced such a situation,’ the teacher told a local paper.
‘It does not make sense. The student saw fit to file a complaint – I offered to talk to him and his parents, but they refused categorically.’
French President Emmanuel Macron leaves after paying his respects by the coffin of slain teacher Samuel Paty in the courtyard of the Sorbonne university during a national memorial event, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 in Paris
An image taken from local French television depicting the aftermath of the stabbing of Samuel Paty in October last year
Anthony Bélangé, the Director of the school in Angers, said: ‘Conflicts between staff and students can happen, but the complaints have taken this to a new level.
‘This is quite an emotionally charged situation and I’ve asked the students in the class to write a factual testimony of the events, which will be sent to the investigation team.’
Bélangé went on to say that the incident represents the first time he had seen any problems with the teacher in question, but that the school decided to suspend him as a precaution during the course of the investigation.
He insisted the suspension was to ‘preserve the integrity of the teacher, who is fearing for his life, and to maintain the presumption of innocence during the investigation’.
’20 per cent of our students are young Muslims,’ he continued.
‘We all live together very peacefully. We defend secularism and a respect for everyone’s beliefs.’
France’s republic has a strict secular tradition, particularly in its education system, but the nation is home to roughly five million Muslims – the largest Muslim minority among any of the EU member nations.