A junior high school in Querétaro city has switched to online learning after news broke about two teenagers setting fire to a fellow student last week in a classroom in which no teacher was present.
According to relatives of a 14-year-old named Juanito, the two other students sprayed alcohol on Juanito’s chair, and after he sat down, he stood up because he was feeling wet. At that point, they approached him with a lighter.
“One of the children set him on fire with a lighter, and it would not go out until he managed to take off his pants,” said Eugenia Eduardo Marcelino, the anguished mother.
As of Wednesday, the victim had undergone two surgeries at the Hospital del Niño y la Mujer, and Eduardo said her son will need skin grafts due to the depth of the burns, according to news reports.
The incident occurred June 6 at Escuela Telesecundaria Josefa Vergara, a public school in the city’s El Salitre neighborhood, where officials this week decided to cancel in-person classes from June 15 through the end of the school year in late July. The school, which had been holding on-site classes in the mornings, will return entirely to virtual learning.
The school’s director told reporters that no teacher was present in Juanito’s classroom during the incident because one teacher was out recovering from cancer and another was in a parent-teacher meeting, leaving a good portion of the school under the care of a head teacher. The school has 272 students and 12 staff members, according to MejoraTuEscuela.org.
The burn victim’s mother said it was a teacher who had given the alcohol to the two students, the newspaper AM de Querétaro reported. She also accused the school of seriously dropping the ball after the incident: No ambulance was called, meaning her son was not examined by emergency medical technicians; a teacher took her son to a clinic rather than to a hospital; and no report was filed with law enforcement.
Moreover, she said, she didn’t find out what had happened until her daughter, who attends the same school, came home with Juanito’s backpack two hours later.
Earlier this week, parents demonstrated outside the school and demanded the dismissal of the school’s director, Gricelda Quiterio Mendoza. In addition, they called for the firing of the head teacher for not being aware of the situation, AM de Querétaro reported.
The paper also reported that Juanito had been subjected to previous harassment because he comes from an indigenous community and speaks an indigenous language. His mother said she had requested a change of school because of the harassment, but the school had not given the go-ahead.
Reqronexión reported this week that the two aggressors have been suspended but will be able to continue their online learning, and an internal investigation has been launched by the state.
State Attorney General Alejandro Echeverría said the case is under investigation from both a criminal standpoint and to ascertain whether school officials saw to it that the minor received proper care and treatment, the newspaper Reforma reported. “I am taking special interest in this,” he said.
A day after the incident, relatives of the victim and the parents of the aggressors were brought together to talk things over. The parents of the accused children reportedly agreed to pay for medical expenses, but only if the victim’s family did not sue them or pursue legal avenues, so any such deal appears to be off the table.
According to AM de Querétaro, social media has erupted with people demanding justice, imploring that the accused students and school officials do not go unpunished.