11-year-old schoolkids can protest: commissionUniversity students in Korea have the right to protest on campus and often do. High school students usually can’t under school regulations.
But according to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea yesterday, teachers who broke up a group of placard-wielding grammar school students in 2008 violated the kiddies’ human rights - and the ruling is bound to inflame an ongoing controversy over students’ rights.
The story traces back to October 2008, when the controversial Nationwide Scholastic Achievement Assessment Test was first administered. Choi, a sixth-grade homeroom teacher at an elementary school in Gangdong District, Seoul, allowed students who objected to the new test - administered by the Education Ministry - to skip school that day. Choi justified the students’ absence through the “experience study” system, which allows students to miss classes to participate in family events, vacations, and extracurricular activities.
On Dec. 17, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education dismissed Choi for allowing students to skip out on the exam.
The next morning, when a substitute was scheduled to take over Choi’s class, more than 20 people - including Choi’s students and members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union - gathered in front of the school and protested her dismissal. They carried placards that read, “Don’t take our teacher away from us!”
In reaction, the school’s principal and some other teachers yanked the placards from the protestors and tore them up, saying, “They [the placards] get in the way of other students.”
An activist from a youth group filed an appeal to the human rights commission.
“The protest was carried out peacefully before classes,” the commission said yesterday, “so the students’ rights to freely express their opinions should definitely be protected. Students’ rights are [to be] compromised only when their expressions endanger national security and public safety or conflict with other people’s rights and freedom.”
After the decision was announced, reaction from the education sector was sharply divided. “It is an irresponsible move that teaches our children that rights come before responsibility or rules,” said Kim Dong-seok, spokesman of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association. “Does it mean that we should allow students to protest at any time, even when some organizations with radical ideas stir them up?”
An official at the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union said that “rights stated in the Constitution should be protected regardless of age.”
By Jeong Seon-eon [email@example.com]