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Wednesday July 24, 2024

French government on defensive over schoolboy’s suicide

Nicolas, 15, killed himself on Sep 5, one day after children went back to class in France after summer break

By AFP
September 18, 2023
This photograph shows the entrance of the Adrienne Bolland High School in Poissy, a day after one of its students killed himself. — AFP/File
This photograph shows the entrance of the Adrienne Bolland High School in Poissy, a day after one of its students killed himself. — AFP/File

PARIS: A threatening letter sent by local education authorities to the parents of a boy who died by suicide after complaining of being bullied has embarrassed France’s government, which described the communication as “shameful”.

The boy, named as Nicolas, 15, killed himself on September 5, one day after children went back to class in France after the summer break.

He had changed schools for the new term to attend an establishment in Paris, but had complained of being bullied in the last school year at his previous school in Poissy in the Yvelines region southwest of the capital.

But the Yvelines regional education authorities based in Versailles, rather than expressing sympathy with the family’s predicament, sent them a letter saying statements by the parents had been “unacceptable” and urged them to adopt a “constructive” attitude.

It even reminded them that slander in France can be a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in jail and a heavy fine of up to 45,000 euros.

“This letter is shameful, shameful,” said Education Minister Gabriel Attal of the letter, which was sent in May but whose existence was first reported last week by the BFMTV channel.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne described the letter as “shocking” and added “there was clearly a failure in the type of response addressed to parents who were extremely worried.”

Attal said inspectors had launched a probe which would give its conclusions in two weeks, with sanctions possible. The boy had first complained of bullying in December 2022.

“I have made the fight against bullying the absolute priority” but “we are still not up to the task,” admitted Attal, who had met with the boy’s family alongside first lady Brigitte Macron.

Attal, 34, who became education minister in a reshuffle this summer, is seen as one of the most ambitious and effective ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

He has made tackling bullying a priority after a series of high-profile suicides of children in recent years who had complained of being bullied at school.

“The revelation of a threatening letter from the rectorate reveals the failings of national education,” said the Le Monde daily.

In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche Sunday paper, the boy’s mother said: “We were the victims but we were made the guilty ones.”

Versailles prosecutors are seeking to investigate whether the suicide was directly linked to bullying, warning against making any conclusions for now.