French teacher torches herself in playground

13th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

A depressed French maths teacher set herself on fire in a high school playground on Thursday, officials said, but she is expected to survive after pupils rushed to her aid.

The 44-year-old doused herself in petrol during the morning break and set herself alight, one day after a stormy meeting with children in her class who found her teaching methods too strict, witnesses said.

"She should pull through," said state prosecutor Patrick Mathe, who added that the woman was suffering from depression and was seen as having tried to commit suicide. "It was a desperate act... there was no crime."

The teacher suffered third-degree burns in the incident at the Jean Moulin secondary school in Beziers, southern France, and was taken by helicopter to a specialist unit in the city of Montpellier's university teaching hospital.

Parents and pupils who spoke to AFP at the scene said the teacher had a difficult relationship with several pupils in her maths class and that a meeting with them to clear the air on Wednesday had become rowdy.

They said she came to school on Thursday morning with a jerry can, gave her first class at 9:00 am (0700 GMT) then, when the morning break came at 10:00 am, walked to the centre of the yard, poured petrol on herself and set herself alight.

Ten days previously, parents said, she had been hostile at a parent-teacher evening at the school, refusing to address their concerns about her methods.

Four parents, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the teacher had refused to help out struggling pupils, preferring to kick them out of class and concentrate on helping the stronger children progress.

They noted that she had appeared at the parents' evening with unexplained cuts and bruises. Some said the same teacher had suffered a nervous breakdown the year before and had been in trouble with school authorities.

The school -- a huge institution housing 3,000 students and 280 teachers -- sent all of its pupils home after the incident, and a crisis cell has been set up to deal with its aftermath. Local education authorities refused to comment.

© 2011 AFP

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