"Getting tattoos is my passion," said Sylvain Helaine, who also had the whites of his eyes surgically turned black

By Joelle Goldstein
September 28, 2020 03:56 PM
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Sylvain Helaine
| Credit: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty

A kindergarten teacher is speaking out after he claims he lost his job due to his physical appearance, which includes tattoos all over his body and having the whites of his eyes surgically turned black.

Sylvain Helaine said he was extremely disappointed to learn from officials at Docteur Morere Elementary School in Palaiseau, a suburb of Paris, that he would no longer be teaching kindergarten after parents complained that he scared their children, Reuters reported.

"I think the decision they took was quite sad," Helaine, 35, told the outlet following the complaint last year from the parents of a 3-year-old boy, whom he never taught.

"I'm a primary school teacher," he added. "I love my job."

Sylvain Helaine
| Credit: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty

According to Reuters, Helaine was 27 years old when he started getting tattoos. At the time, he said he was teaching at a private school in London and experienced an "existential crisis" that inspired him to get inked.

"[Since then], getting tattoos is my passion," he explained to the outlet, estimating that he's spent close to 460 hours under the needle.

Despite his unique appearance, Helaine said he's never had a problem with teaching — until his time at Docteur Morere Elementary School.

"All of my students and their parents were always cool with me because basically, they knew me," he explained to the outlet. "It's only when people see me from far away that they can assume the worst."

Sylvain Helaine
| Credit: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty

In a statement to Reuters, a spokesperson for the local education authority said they reached an agreement with Helaine that would move him away from teaching kindergarten and noted that students under 6 years old "could be frightened by his appearance."

A spokesperson for Frances' Ministry of National Education did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Sylvain Helaine
| Credit: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty
Sylvain Helaine
| Credit: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty

Although he's faced challenges throughout his career, Helaine has vowed to continue serving as an educator and still teaches children 6 and up, Reuters reported.

He told the outlet he hopes his unique physical appearance will inspire his students to be more accepting and tolerant in the future.

"Maybe when they are adults they will be less racist and less homophobic and more open-minded," he explained.