Faced with terrorist attacks, how can we protect teachers?


Three years after the death of Samuel Paty , history-geography professor killed leaving his college in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Yvelines), the assassination this Friday, October 13, 2023 of Dominique Bernard, French professor in the city Gambetta-Carnot school in Arras once again opens up the question of the protections to be provided in educational establishments, in particular for teachers who can suffer attacks from outside but must also face unacceptable internal accusations, particularly with regard to teaching in PE, SVT or history.

Can we really “sanctuary” establishments and teaching? A certain number of announcements that have been made in the past appear difficult to apply or leave in the shadows certain aspects of the problem that are very real.

Experimenting with gates at the entrance to establishments

To secure the entrance to educational establishments, we immediately think of the announcements concerning the installation of gates, mentioned for around fifteen years. In May 2009, on a visit to the Fenouillet college in Haute-Garonne where a teacher had been stabbed by a fifth grade student after her refusal to withdraw a punishment, the Minister of Education Xavier Darcos declared that he was considering the installation of metal detection devices in front of certain establishments.

A month earlier, following the intrusion of an armed gang into a vocational high school in Gagny in Seine-Saint-Denis resulting in around ten injuries, Xavier Darcos had already spoken out in favor of installing cameras surveillance in middle and high schools. However, these new systems are the responsibility of the departments and regions, and few of them take this route.

Following the attacks of November 13, 2015 in Paris, during the regional election campaign, Valérie Pécresse and Laurent Wauquiez, future presidents of the Île-de-France and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regions, requested the installation of gantries of security at the entrance to all high schools . The most committed to this path was Laurent Wauquiez who announced that his region would equip its 320 high schools with gantries such as can be found in airports, in order to counter “terrorism, the intrusion of firearms and trafficking of drugs”.

The new president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regional council had decided to test this measure in fifteen pilot establishments. But six months after the announcement, the region had to backtrack and opted for simple turnstiles with badges. The boards of directors of the establishments concerned did not in fact come out in favor of the gates but rather in favor of bringing the fences up to standard, repairing the fences or surveillance cameras. In March 2017, while the shooting in a high school in Grasse rekindled the debate, on France Inter, Philippe Tournier, the general secretary of SNPDEN, the majority union of school leaders, recalled the logistical pitfalls of this type of system  :
“The calculation was made by our colleagues, particularly in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region where the project existed. For a high school with a thousand students, they had to arrive an hour early to go through security checks while we were already struggling to get students to arrive at normal time. It’s not technically serious. »

But Philippe Tournier demands no less clearly that educational establishments be equipped with security agents: “this exists in hospitals, in shopping centers, in town halls and even at the Ministry of National Education but still not in educational establishments . We are not asking for armed guards in front of establishments. This is absolutely not our request. But they say that security is a profession.” Mobile security teams are then responsible for combating school violence but they only represent 500 people for 60,000 establishments. The Minister of National Education. In October 2023, Gabiel Attal has just announced “the deployment of 1,000 security personnel” in educational establishments.

Warning signs in middle and high schools

The threats weighing on teachers are not only external, the accusations can come from within the educational establishments. And, from this point of view, we must take into account the already alarming observation drawn up around twenty years ago by Inspector General Jean-Pierre Obin.

In June 2004, this report from the General Inspectorate of National Education, written by Jean-Pierre Obin following inspections carried out in around sixty so-called “sensitive” educational establishments, was submitted to the Minister of Education. National Education François Fillon. Its title: Signs and manifestations of religious affiliations in educational establishments . The question of wearing the veil is presented in this report as “the tree that hides the forest” of the deterioration of school life and the challenges to certain teaching, particularly in physical and sports education, in life and science sciences. Earth and history. Obviously, what is most alarming was left in the shadows while we generally focus on “external signs” such as wearing the veil.

The report is not made public by the ministry. And for good reason: the Minister of National Education François Fillon does not break with the temptation to highlight what is most visible. He ostensibly claims to have been a driving force in the ban on the wearing of the veil by students in schools while speaking out for the extension of this ban to universities. Almost a year later, in March 2005, shortly after its publication on the Education League website, the report was discreetly placed on the ministry website, without any other initiative being taken by the minister. François Fillon.

The challenges to the teachings highlighted by the “Obin” report have not stopped since, far from it. This undoubtedly explains why a bill “aimed at establishing an offense of obstructing the freedom to teach within the framework of programs decreed by National Education and at protecting teachers and educational staff” was was filed at the end of October 2020. It is contained in a single article: insert after the second paragraph of article 131-1 of the penal code , a new paragraph stating that
“The fact of attempting to hinder or hinder, through pressure, threats, insults or intimidation, the exercise of the freedom to teach according to the educational objectives of National Education, determined by the Superior Council of Programs, is punished with one year’s imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 euros. »

This proposal was made by the senator from Oise, Olivier Paccaud , associate professor of history and geography, in the company of around fifty senators belonging mostly to the Les Républicains group. It was unsuccessful.

However, it had a precedent more than a century ago. At the end of January 1914, the Chamber of Deputies had in fact voted on a series of provisions in order to “ensure the defense of secular schools” . It was noted that anyone exerting material or moral pressure on parents, who would have determined them to withdraw their child from school or to prevent the child from participating in the school’s regulatory exercises, will be punished by imprisonment of six days to one month and a fine of sixteen francs to two hundred gold francs. Finally, anyone who obstructs or attempts to obstruct the regular operation of a public school will be subject to the same penalties, which will be significantly increased if there has been violence, insults or threats.

It took five years for the 1914 law to be passed. From 1910 to 1913, numerous “secular defense” projects followed one another but did not follow through. The Third Republic  had also experienced procrastination before taking action…

However, there can be no question of concealing the fact that certain effective challenges to certain teachings cannot be tolerated, even if this happens less often than some think. But it exists, and what is intolerable must not be tolerated. This calls for the possibility of effective coercive measures, in particular so that those who stand up feel effectively supported when the limit is exceeded. This calls for a renewed “secular defense” of teachings and teachers.

Author Bio: Claude Lelievre is a Teacher-researcher in the history of education, honorary professor at Paris-Descartes at Paris Cité University