11-year-old schoolkids can protest: commission

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11-year-old schoolkids can protest: commission

University 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 [enational@joongang.co.kr]

Related Korean Article

인권위 “학생들 표현의 자유 침해”
교총 “권리만 강조, 무책임한 결정”
전교조 “나이 무관한 헌법상 권리”

국가인권위원회가 시위를 하는 초등학생의 피켓을 빼앗은 교사의 행동은 아이들에 대한 인권침해라고 판단해 논란이 일고 있다.

2008년 12월 18일 오전 서울 강동구 한 초등학교 교문 앞. 전날 해임된 최모(27·여) 교사와 학생·전국교직원노동조합원 등 20여 명이 ‘선생님을 빼앗지 말아주세요’라고 적힌 피켓을 들고 시위를 벌였다. 최 교사의 해임을 철회하라는 주장이었다. 그는 10월 전국적으로 실시된 일제고사를 거부하고 일부 학생과 체험학습을 다녀왔다 해임됐다. 이날은 최 교사를 대신해 새 담임교사가 첫 수업을 하는 날이었다.

시위가 시작되고 얼마 지나지 않아 김모 교장과 교직원 등이 나왔다. 그리고 “다른 학생들이 등교하는 데 방해가 된다”며 학생들이 들고 있던 피켓 등을 빼앗았다. 이후 최 교사가 교실로 들어가기 위해 학교 중앙현관으로 가자 학교 측은 현관 앞에 교사들을 배치해 최 교사의 출입을 막기도 했다.

이 사건과 관련해 인권위는 “해직교사의 출입을 막은 것은 정상적인 수업을 위한 조치로 볼 수 있으나 학생들의 피켓을 빼앗은 행동은 표현의 자유를 침해한 것”이라고 29일 밝혔다. 2008년 12월 한 청소년단체 활동가가 진정을 제기한 것에 대해 이 같은 결정을 내린 것이다.

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