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French teachers walk out over violence

Since the beginning of the year, French schools have seen a string of attacks.

A group of high school teachers sport a mask on their left arm reading "On strike and Angry," as part of a teacher, high school and parents joint protest march in Lyon, France on March 12, 2010, to oppose plans to eliminate 16,000 education jobs nationwide in 2010. (Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS, France — French teachers are protesting, but not for the usual reasons: They say violent attacks have become all too commonplace in schools, an unintended result of budget cutbacks.

A string of incidents since the beginning of the year have turned some schools into venues for settling instead of earning scores. In January, an 18-year-old student named Hakim died after being stabbed by a fellow student at a suburban high school over an exchange of words between the alleged attacker and the victim’s sister.

In another incident, hooded attackers entered a school’s gymnasium and sprayed students with teargas before chasing and slashing their target. One of last week’s victims was an assistant principal attacked as he tried to stop two individuals from forcibly accessing his school in the tough Seine-Saint-Denis suburb on the northeastern outskirts of Paris, Le Parisien newspaper reported. Another incident left a teacher hospitalized with bruises after a 16-year-old student facing a seven-day suspension arrived at a southeastern suburban school with a curtain rod and a pair of scissors and pummeled him, according to reports.

Teachers say they are ill-equipped to confront the banal violence that has gradually seeped into their classrooms and that there are too few security guards patrolling school corridors. Proposals to add metal detectors, video cameras and reinforced doorways will not address the roots of the problem, they say.

To aggravate matters, the government plans to eliminate in the coming academic year up to 16,000 jobs from schools already straining under personnel shortages. In response, thousands of teachers again put down their lesson plans on March 23, picked up their placards and joined the mass of civil servants throughout the country protesting governmental reforms.

“We’re eliminating a lot of jobs and not replacing those of the teachers who retire,” said David, a 34-year-old physical education teacher from the northern city of Lille, who requested his last name not be used so he could speak more candidly. “Conditions in the classrooms are deteriorating and teachers have had enough.”

As a result of the attack on the principal last week, the school was shuttered the next day. After the gym stabbing, teachers stayed away from their classes for more than two weeks while they negotiated solutions with education authorities. Parents too have had their say. They threatened to seek redress in court over the “fundamental right to lessons” if the government did not find a solution to address teacher absences, whether due to strikes or to teachers not being replaced when they fall ill, go on maternity leave or take vacation.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/france/100327/school-violence-education-funding