, ALBI, Jul 4, 2014 – A primary school in southern France was in shock on Friday after a female teacher was stabbed to death in front of her pupils by a student’s mother, who was quickly detained.
Education Minister Benoit Hamon rushed to the school to coordinate the government response and later told journalists that the assailant appeared to have “psychiatric problems”.
The attack on the 34-year-old teacher took place around 9:00 am (0700 GMT) as morning classes began on the last day of term at Albi’s Edouard Herriot primary school, which is attended by 284 students aged from three to 11.
“This morning, a mother showed up with a knife and stabbed a 34-year-old teacher in front of her students, for reasons that will be determined by the investigation,” Albi prosecutor Claude Derens told AFP.
“When I arrived at the scene they were trying to revive her. She was in cardiac arrest in her classroom,” he said.
The victim, a mother of two small children, taught in the school’s kindergarten.
Students and teachers were evacuated from the school immediately after the attack.
The assailant was described as a 47 year old woman and it was not known if her child was in the classroom at the time of the stabbing.
“This is an appalling act, a murder, a murder of a teacher in her classroom, in front of her students, by a woman who… seems to suffer from significant psychiatric problems,” Hamon said after arriving in Albi.
President Francois Hollande offered the government’s full support to those involved.
“All state services will be mobilised to take care of these children and the staff who witnessed this awful tragedy,” Hollande said in a statement.
In an earlier statement Hamon said he was “deeply shocked by this crime, which plunges the end of the school year into mourning.”
“This tragedy confirms there is a need to fight against violence in and around schools, to protect schools, teachers and students,” he said, adding that counselling would be made available to students and staff.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls also expressed his “dismay” at the incident.
“The entire education community is in mourning today,” he said in a statement.
“The investigation that has started should shed light on the circumstances of this tragedy,” Valls said.
The incident comes amid concerns in France over assaults on teachers, with a study released on Thursday saying that education workers were twice as likely to be threatened and insulted than people in other professions.
The study by the INSEE state statistics agency found that 12 percent of education workers suffered threats and verbal abuse.
Only 0.6 percent of education workers reported suffering physical attacks however.
Another study released in April said nearly half of primary school principals reported being verbally or physically abused.
Of 4,000 principals questioned in the study, 49 percent said they had suffered from harassment, threats or insults in the 2012-13 school year.
It is still extremely rare for teachers in France to be killed in connection with their work, with only four known cases in the last 30 years.
The last was in 1995, when 51-year-old English teacher Michel Antoine was beaten to death in the southwestern town of Dax by two students, one of whom had just flunked his exams.
The two were later both sentenced to 10 years in prison.
There have been more cases of simple assaults on teachers, in several cases involving parents.
In October 2012 a father was sentenced to three years in prison, with 18 months suspended, for
having struck a Lyon gym teacher several times with a truncheon after entering the school gymnasium to complain of his daughter being excluded from a basketball game.