[VIEWPOINT]Rethink ‘school police’ planAccording to the National Academy of the Korean Language, the new word that was most used in the Korean press last year was “school police.” It is interesting in that this fact reflects how much the people of Korea are interested in and concerned about violence in our schools.
The governing party and the administration attracted much attention from people after they revealed a plan for allowing, in light of rising school violence, some school teachers to have semi-judicial police rights. This would allow them to regulate business places that are harmful for minors but frequented by students, summon parents and impose penalties on violators. In my view, however, this plan needs to undergo a more thorough examination and go through the process of social approval.
The plan is said to have been conceived based on the “Respect Action Plan” that Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom announced in his New Year speech. The U.K. government is pursuing this movement in six different categories under the slogan, “Eliminate anti-social behavior and restore the spirit of community.”
This plan especially gives school authorities the right to impose stricter penalties, such as the suspension and expulsion of students who are absent from class without reason, or who engage in radical actions within the school. It also includes an education policy that intends to normalize school education by holding parents of such children responsible.
However, there are significant differences between the U.K. plan and the one announced by the Korean government. The British plan chooses firm control over problem students as its task, such as stricter checking of their attendance at classes and stronger punishments. But the Korean plan gives teachers judicial rights outside school and the right to summon parents.
The idea that teachers should be granted semi-judicial police rights because school violence occurs mainly outside schools needs further deliberation. According to a survey the National Police Agency conducted on school violence perpetrators, respondents said that 51 percent of violent incidents happened outside the school and the rest inside the school. This means that the violence occurs in almost the same proportion in and outside of school. Considering the fact that in most cases the assailant-victim relationship was between classmates or between juniors and seniors at the same school, education authorities should reflect on themselves and question whether there was a lack of active guidance and counseling on the part of the teacher.
In addition, the basic duty of a teacher is to teach students knowledge and lead them to build good character. Therefore, it is hard to say that the exercise of police rights is part of a teacher’s original vocation. We should also not overlook the grumbling of teachers that under conditions where there isn’t even enough time to teach, giving teachers the extra task of regulating entertainment venues is a result of bad administration.
Furthermore, if teachers exercise police rights and insist on punishing problem students, this will end up mass-producing numerous young delinquents. It also does not go with the trend of modern democratic countries that pursue a diversion policy by prioritizing enlightenment and guidance for youths who commit trivial crimes.
First of all, we need to think over whether a teacher can realistically, with just an identity card, fulfill the duty of restraining the owners of entertainment places who lodge strong protests against them, or students fighting in gangs using weapons. Ultimately teachers will have to be provided with self-protective equipment like police in formal uniform, for their own safety.
It is both distressing and puzzling to think that our children will think of teachers with police clubs in bulletproof vests, instead of with books and registers, when they look back on their school years in the future.
Instead of a policy that grants some teachers semi-judicial police rights despite so many problems, it is necessary to keep consistency in the policy that carries out the responsible teacher system stipulated in the special law on school violence.
However, as in the case of the United States, a “communication police” system, under which people with teacher’s certificates are employed as youth police and sent to schools in their jurisdiction regularly to counsel and guide students, could use the specialties of both teachers and police at the same time. This could be a realistic alternative.
* The writer is a professor of police science at Keimyung University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Huh Kyung-mi