By Lucien Libert
PALAISEAU, France (Reuters) - A schoolteacher whose body, face and tongue are covered in tattoos and who has had the whites of his eyes surgically turned black said he was prevented from teaching at a French kindergarten after a parent complained he scared their child.
But the teacher, Sylvain Helaine, 35, still teaches children from the age of six up, and said that, after an initial shock when they see him for the first time, his pupils see past his appearance.
"All of my students and their parents were always cool with me because basically they knew me," said Helaine, who estimated he has spent around 460 hours under the tattooists' needle.
"It's only when people see me from far away that they can assume the worst."
He said last year he was teaching kindergarten at the Docteur Morere Elementary School in Palaiseau, a suburb of Paris, when the parents of a three-year-old child complained to educational authorities. They said their son, who was not taught by Helaine, had nightmares after seeing him.
A couple of months later the school authorities informed him he would no longer teach kindergarten children, he said. "I think the decision they took was quite sad," said Helaine.
A spokesman for the local education authority said an agreement was reached with Helaine to move him away from teaching kindergarten. Pupils under six "could be frightened by his appearance", the spokesman said.
Despite the setbacks, Helaine said he would stick with his chosen career. "I'm a primary school teacher ... I love my job."
He said he started getting tattoos at the age of 27 when, while teaching at a private school in London, he had an "existential crisis". Since then, he said, "Getting tattoos is my passion."
He said he hoped to show his pupils that they should accept people who are different from the norm. "Maybe when they are adults they will be less racist and less homophobic and more open-minded," he said.
(Writing by Christian Lowe and Lucien Libert; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)