The fast and the furiousUpon returning to work after standing trial on bribery charges, Kwak No-hyun, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, is raising havoc between city and national education authorities. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology are now fighting like cats and dogs.
After Kwak promulgated the controversial ordinance on students’ rights on his first day back at work, the ministry immediately sought an injunction from the Supreme Court to stop the move. When Kwak sent an order to elementary, middle and high schools in Seoul to revise their regulations to incorporate the new ordinance, the ministry commanded school authorities not to make any amendments. This has left students and parents caught in the crossfire.
Kwak attacked the ministry for being outdated and authoritarian and for undermining the liberty and independence of the nation’s education system. He is more or less telling the ministry to stop meddling, but at the same time, he sees fit to order schools about and follow his instructions. His command that schools must revise their regulations also goes against the spirit of fair education.
School statutes are a set of disciplinary and educational guidelines that schoolmasters choose based on a consensus of teachers, parents and students. Schools have given mixed reviews on adopting the students’ rights ordinance, which gives them much more freedom in terms of how they dress and style their hair. It also grants students the freedom to stage rallies on campus and use cell phones on school grounds.
But before they vote on the ordinance, Seoul education authorities are demanding quick action. One principal who is affiliated with the liberal union of teachers even said that he is refusing to adopt the new school rules unless given no other choice.
Kwak and his staff want quick action on the ordinance because the education chief may not have much time left in office. Kwak was found guilty of bribing his former campaign rival and received a punitive fine. If he fails to get the ruling overturned on appeal, he will lose his position.
With his back firmly against the wall, the education chief may be acting somewhat rashly. This supports calls to revise the law that allows elected public servants to remain in office until such rulings are finalized, just as other types of officials are suspended from office before criminal charges are finalized.