There is “no semblance of truth” to reports that the headteacher of a French school in Qatar made racist and offensive remarks about Muslims and Qatari students, the nation’s education ministry has said.
Jean-Pierre Debaere, the principal of the Lycée Franco-Qatarien Voltaire, was called in by Ministry of Education officials on Sunday to respond to claims made during the radio show Watani al habib (“my beloved homeland”) on Thursday.
During the program, a mother of a student at the school said she had been told that Debaere had made numerous offensive remarks during an internal meeting.
The woman, who called herself Umm Ahmad, was not at the meeting but said she had been told of the comments by unnamed people who did attend it.
Last night, a Ministry of Education and Higher Education spokesperson read a statement about the matter on the radio program, an official confirmed to Doha News.
The statement addresses claims made on the radio show that, following the November Paris attacks by gunmen, the principal gathered all the students and made them stand for a moment of silence, and then told them that “Islam is terrorism.”
Debaere told the ministry that he intended to refer to terrorist groups that call themselves Muslim.
He admitted some students had misunderstood his statement, and apologized at that time. He added that Muslims were also harmed by these attacks, which he denounced, the statement said.
During what is described as a two-day investigation, Umm Ahmad and a number of other parents were also questioned by ministry officials.
Debaere is described in the statement as a former diplomat in a number of Arab countries who has organized many initiatives that support Islamic culture.
No one at the ministry could be reached for comment, and the school did not respond to request by Doha News for a comment.
However, the statement has been widely reported in local Arabic media today.
Quoting the Ministry of Education, Al Raya reported:
“The results of the investigation that lasted for two days with all parties concerned proved that the racist comments attributed to Jean-Pierre Debaere, the principal of Lycée Franco-Qatarien Voltaire, are erroneous and have no semblance of truth to them.”
The ministry also said that other claims made about the school that were previously reported in local Arabic media were wrong, including that the school’s accountant did not have a college degree and that 63 Muslim teachers and staff were recently sacked.
The accountant, who was also investigated by the ministry, does have a degree and 15 years’ experience. Meanwhile, the number of teachers and admin staff who lost their jobs totals 16 Muslims and non-Muslims, which includes six people whose contracts had come to an end and who chose not to renew them.
After the radio show and subsequent calls for an investigation on social media, Education Minister Dr. Mohammad bin Abdul Wahed Al-Hammadi warned against jumping to conclusions until the claims were properly investigated.
Al-Hammadi echoed requests made earlier this month by a body representing the state’s private sector businesses, which urged media in the country to “be impartial and transparent” in its coverage of private schools.
Qatar Chamber’s education committee asked for all non-state funded schools to appoint a press spokesperson, and asked the media to verify facts before publishing them.