Furor over ban on school slaps

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Furor over ban on school slaps

Fierce debates have broken out after the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education published a guideline Monday prohibiting corporal punishment in kindergartens, elementary and high schools.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced yesterday that the guideline conflicts with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law stipulates that school principals have the right to inflict corporal punishment on students for educational purposes according to school regulations. School principals and board committees have the right to autonomously set up rules and limits regarding corporal punishment.

“The guideline infringes upon the rights of school principals,” said an official at the ministry who requested anonymity. Another official added that although the ministry has also been on an anti-corporal punishment campaign since 2007, there is a difference between a campaign and banning physical punishment from the top.

The ministry will announce its official stand on the conflict and the guideline itself in a few days, after legal consultations.

The Korea Federation of Teachers Associations also criticized the education office, saying it doesn’t have the right to enforce changes in school regulations. It said there are many legal precedents establishing the legitimacy of corporal punishments for educational purposes.

Seoul Educational Superintendent Kwak No-hyun replied, “Our ultimate goal is to ban corporal punishment, but the guideline is not contradictory to the Elementary and Secondary School Act. The clauses regarding corporal punishment are very vague and open to subjective interpretation, so we want to specify in detail the limits and circumstances that necessitate corporal punishment.”

Critic are saying the education office drew up the guideline hastily, in less than two hours, without a thorough review. According to Yonhap News Agency, officials only consulted the law and precedents after the Ministry of Education pointed out legal conflicts.

Meanwhile, the guideline has already caused disorder in classrooms. When a Seoul teacher named Jang scolded a few students for eating snacks and talking loudly in class on Tuesday, they stood up to him, saying “Why are you being so mean to us? Teachers are not supposed to hit students from now on.”

Jang said bitterly, “It is getting increasingly difficult to keep students under control and we can’t even teach properly now.”

By Kim Sung-tak [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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