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Special education lags in Seoul area

Negative views about such institutes leave parents few options

Jan 17,2015
Lee Jin-hee usually spends six hours on the road driving her 11th-grade son to and from school. Although they live in Seocho District, southern Seoul, the 50-year-old has escorted her son all the way to Gwangju, Gyeonggi, for the past five years.

The high school student has cerebral palsy and can’t control his arms and legs.

Lee said she had no other option because the school for students with special needs in Gwangju was the closest choice available.

“There are five special education schools in Seoul for kids with cerebral palsy, but they were already full [when I tried to enroll my son],” she said. “No wonder so many other parents [in similar situations] move to Australia or Canada.”

For a municipal population of approximately 10 million people, there are a mere 29 special education schools; and for the past 13 years, not a single special education institution has been established, in part due to complaints by residents that those types of facilities make property values drop.

Seoul Gyeongun School in Jongno District, central Seoul, was the most recently opened facility in 2002.

Seoul’s Dongdaemun and Jungnang districts don’t have any schools for the disabled, and Gangseo and Yangcheon districts only have one each. Dongdaemun and Jungnang are home to around 90 disabled students combined, while Gangseo and Yangcheon have roughly 170 of such students living there total.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education recently planned to establish a school for the handicapped in Gangseo District, western Seoul, though the plan was thwarted by residents, who signed a petition against it.

A woman in her 60s who asked for anonymity told a reporter that “there’s no way” people would embrace such a facility in an area with so many affluent neighborhoods.

“Many parents worry that [special needs students] will have a negative influence on ordinary students,” she added.

Seoul educational officials said they are currently negotiating with district officials over the issue.

“Developed countries have long developed a culture that embraces the disabled and makes social prejudices against them taboo,” said Kim Mun-jo, a sociology professor at Korea University.

Because “Korea has such a short history of citizenry, the idea of NIMBY [not in my backyard] runs rampant,” Kim added.

Yet although special education schools are rarely welcomed by those living around them, there are exceptions. Miral School in the opulent Gangnam area is one key example. Since opening its doors in 1997, the institute has blended harmoniously with its surroundings.

But that wasn’t always the case.

When the city announced plans to establish a school there for the disadvantaged, residents rallied on the streets, blocking roads that led to the school.

However, after opening its gym for public use, organizing weekly performances at its concert hall and selling beverages and bread at low prices on school grounds, Miral School eventually rose to become a sort of community retreat.

“Before the school opened, a lot of people feared that housing prices would plummet,” said a 74-year-old woman surnamed Han. “But in fact, prices actually rose.”

BY CHUN IN-SUNG, JUNG JONG-HOON and SHIN JIN [selee@joongang.co.kr]





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