French schools pay homage to slain teacher Samuel Paty, one year on

Flowers are layed outside the Bois d'Aulne secondary school in homage to murdered history teacher Samuel Paty.
Flowers are layed outside the Bois d'Aulne secondary school in homage to murdered history teacher Samuel Paty. AFP - ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT

Schools across France are holding ceremonies on Friday in memory of Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher who was murdered a year ago for showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. 


Paty, who was 47, was beheaded after leaving the middle school where he taught in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on the evening of 16 October, 2020.

His killer, 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdullakh Anzorov, claimed the attack as revenge for Paty showing his class the cartoons in a lesson on free speech. Anzorov was shot dead by police.

Paty's violent death sent shockwaves through France, where it was seen as an attack on the core values passed on by teachers to generations of schoolchildren. Those values include the separation of church and state, and the right to blaspheme.

A number of ceremonies in Paty's memory have been organised across the country for Friday and Saturday.

As well as a minute's silence, teachers have been encouraged to organise class debates and screenings.

In Conflans, where Paty taught, a monument of an open book will be unveiled in his honour.

The Paris Mosque has said that several imams would gather in front of Paty's high school as a sign of respect.

Immense emotion, shock

"Schools are free to organise the commemoration however they wish," Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on RMC radio on Thursday.

"It can be an open exchange, a discussion about the role of teachers, and how knowledge is shared."

Blanquer is to attend a ceremony at a high school in Paris on Friday alongside Prime Minister Jean Castex, with a plaque to be unveiled at the Education Ministry. 

For many teachers, addressing Paty’s slaying is a challenge that speaks to the values of critical thinking and exchange at the heart of their profession. "We feel immense emotion on the eve of this anniversary," said Sophie Vénétitay, secretary of the Snes-FSU teachers' union.

Teachers have wholeheartedly embraced the need to hold a commemoration, she added. 

    They are faced with memories and the shock of what happened."

    "It's extremely difficult to explain, but I think it's important to tell the truth to children. We must tell them that something terrible has happened, that it was a terrorist attack," Tertiary Education Minister Frédérique Vidal told France Info radio on Friday.

    Blanquer has warned, however, that any students caught disrupting the commemorations in any way will be punished.

    On Saturday, President Emmanuel Macron, who described Paty as a "quiet hero" of the French republic, will host family members at the Elysée Palace in the afternoon.

    In Paris, a square opposite the prestigious Sorbonne University will be given Paty's name.

    To help teachers, the Education Ministry has developed a series of educational tools, including a "republican guide" sent to each school, and a series of posters explaining the meaning of secularism.

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