Court clears schools chief on teacher punishment

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Court clears schools chief on teacher punishment

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Kim Sang-kon

A local court yesterday acquitted two-term Gyeonggi education chief Kim Sang-kon, who was indicted in March for alleged dereliction of duty for refusing the Education Ministry’s order to discipline 14 teachers in the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union who signed an antigovernment statement last June.

Prosecutors, who had sought a 10-month jail term for Kim, said they would appeal the case to a higher court.

“As there are divided opinions and controversy as to whether the teachers’ actions were illegal, the defendant [Kim] took a prudent stance by deciding to suspend disciplinary measures until the judiciary makes a final ruling on the teachers,” Judge Yu Sang-jae of Suwon District Court said in his verdict. “His action isn’t a breach of duty and malfeasance, as argued by prosecutors.”

Judge Yu said that when an education superintendent receives a disciplinary order from the Education Ministry, he or she has the right to determine whether the order has sufficient grounds to punish the teachers after thoroughly investigating the matter.

The court also rejected the prosecutors’ argument that the teachers’ antigovernment statement infringed students’ right to learn.

By law, Korean civil servants (including teachers) are supposed to be politically neutral. But many challenges have been made to how the law should be interpreted, especially by liberals. Judgments by courts have been inconsistent on the issue.

“Because the teacher’s antigovernment statement didn’t take place in a class, it didn’t violate the students’ right to learn,” Judge Yu said.

Prior to leaving court, Kim said, “Today’s ruling was a natural result.”

“The ruling proved that the Education Ministry’s pressing charges and the prosecutors indictment [of me] was an outrageous application and enforcement of the law,” Kim said.

In November Kim refused to punish the 14 teachers as requested by the Education Ministry, arguing that teachers have the right to express their opinions and that punishing them for protesting against the government is not appropriate. The ministry sued Kim for breach of duty in December.

The Education Ministry was baffled at the ruling, and it held an emergency executive meeting presided by Vice Education Minister Lee Ju-ho to discuss its future course of action.

“We will wait for the verdict of the appeals trial,” a senior education ministry official said.

Education observers suggest the court’s clearance will help the 60-year-old liberal education chief push policies that conflict with the current government, including providing free school lunches for all students.

Students in fishing and farming villages have benefited from the meal program in Gyeonggi, and Kim plans to expand the program to all elementary schools by 2012 and middle schools by 2014. Kim estimates the program will cost at least 661.3 billion won ($560 million) in 2014 and wants to maintain amicable relations with province councilors, who approve budgets.

Last year, the ruling Grand National Party took the majority of seats on the Gyeonggi council, and it slashed the entire budget Kim requested for free school lunches. This year, the opposition Democratic Party took control of the council in the June 2 local elections, winning 76 of the council’s 131 seats.


By Kim Mi-ju, Choi Mo-ran [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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검찰, 항소하기로 … 교과부 “정책 추진하기 어렵다” 불만
김 교육감 무상급식·혁신학교 정책 탄력 받을듯


수원지법 형사11부(유상재 부장판사)는 27일 시국선언 전교조 교사에 대한 징계를 유보한 혐의(직무유기)로 불구속 기소된 김상곤(60·사진) 경기도교육감에게 무죄를 선고했다.

재판부는 판결문에서 “시국선언 행위가 징계 사유에 해당하는지에 대한 사회적 논란이 있는 상황에서 피고인은 법률자문을 거치는 등 고민했고 사법부의 최종 판단을 기다리자는 신중한 입장에서 징계 유보를 결정한 것으로 보인다”며 “이는 재량권 일탈이나 남용에 해당되지 않는다”고 밝혔다.

재판부는 “시국선언 행위는 교육과정이나 학습현장에서 발생한 것이 아니어서 구체적이고 직접적인 학습권이 침해받지 않았다”며 “교육기관의 장(長)은 검찰의 범죄처분결과통보서를 받더라도 충분한 조사를 거쳐 징계의 상당한 이유가 있는지를 판단할 재량권이 있다”고 덧붙였다. 검찰은 판결에 불복해 항소하기로 했다.

김 교육감은 시국선언을 주도한 전교조 경기지부 집행부 14명에 대한 검찰의 기소 처분을 통보받고도 1개월 안에 징계의결을 요구하지 않은 혐의로 불구속 기소돼 징역 10월을 구형받았다.

김 교육감은 판결 직후 “징계 의결 유보를 직무유기로 판단해 기소까지 한 검찰의 법 적용이 무리였다는 것이 증명됐다”고 말했다.

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