[Viewpoint] In need of a school violence manual

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[Viewpoint] In need of a school violence manual

A middle school teacher has been indicted for dereliction of duties and failing to take preventative steps before a student committed suicide. The charges on the school teacher have created controversy in the country, particularly in the educational field. Nowadays, it is very hard to find teachers willing to take the role of a middle school homeroom teacher, and in elementary schools, many teachers are very reluctant to supervise sixth grade classes.

A middle school in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, has experienced frequent school violence, resulting in 70 percent of teachers filing transfer requests. While the teachers’ organizations and the board of education have expressed concerns, parent groups are demanding harsh punishment for the teacher.

Teachers often do not want to get involved in school violence cases because there is no standard of accountability and they often receive full blame for incidents. Parents are demanding punishment because there have certainly been irresponsible teachers who have neglected problems and let situations worsen.

We need a more fundamental solution than the current “comprehensive plan to eradicate school violence” proposed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. Recently, I had a chance to tour schools and educational boards in the United States and Japan and investigate specific school violence cases. Japan has a history of struggling with school violence and bullies, and I had a chance to review the guidance manual that is sent to each school by the Nara Prefectural Government.

The manual included detailed procedures and measures to be taken by teachers and the school for each and every case of violence, damage to school property and theft. For example, when signs of violence are detected, the manual specifically details the initial response measures to be taken, the steps to stop the violence, responses and consideration for the victim and their parents as well as the offender and their parents and follow-up steps to prevent further occurrences.

For doctors, they follow the clinical pathway, a set of standardized care processes that include specific algorithms to follow according to the symptoms. It would be best to conduct all possible examinations, but a minimum guideline has been created in order to reduce the burden of medical expenses. The guideline is used as a standard for medical care and services to be performed for the patients and in case of medical accidents, it is reviewed whether the doctor had observed the guideline.

Regarding school violence, there has to be a set of preventative plans as well as minimum procedures and measures to be observed by the school and by teachers in case signs of violence are detected among students. After that, the teacher would be able to take appropriate actions by citing the guideline, and the students and the teachers involved in the case can file a request to go through the procedures based on the guideline.

Moreover, the guideline would further clarify the range of accountability for the teachers and the schools, so they would be able to save themselves from unnecessary anxiety and make more efforts to improve the situation. The guideline would also set the standard to determine whether the school and the teachers properly observed the procedure and made necessary actions. It may be problematic to indict a teacher based on social perceptions or the standards of negligence for general public servants when there is no guideline for the schools and teachers.

In the West, schools are held responsible for every event that occurs from the moment the students arrive at school in the morning up until they leave the school gates in the late afternoon. In order to ensure safety, students should never be left unsupervised when they are on school property. In order to guarantee that the school and the teachers can focus on productive educational activities and avoid excessive administrative duties, it would be reasonable to limit the accountability of the school and the teachers to the period the students remain at school.

In the case of a violent incident occurring outside school, the school and teachers may be held responsible to inform the police and the parents of the students involved. The school’s full cooperation should be sought, while primary accountability is held against the parents, police and the local community.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Nam-gi

* The author is the president of Gwangju National University of Education.
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