Special schools help communities
When I paid a visit to Miral School in Ilwon-dong on the afternoon of Jan. 4, some 20 locals were playing table tennis in the gym on the second floor. Jeong Jae-wan, 51, the leader of the table tennis group, said that the school offers a great place for locals to exercise. They also enjoy drinks from the school’s cafeteria. Another local resident said she likes to visit the school’s art gallery and concert hall. Miral School has improved the cultural level of the locals, and real estate prices have gone up as a result, she said.
The school is a special education institute for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. While the school is a favorite site among locals now, they fiercely opposed it when it was established in 1997. The founder of the school, Hong Jeong-gil, 74, recalls, “Some locals grabbed me and criticized me for building an unpleasant facility in the area. The district chief demanded that the school should compensate the locals if it affected the local real estate market.”
Seventeen years have passed, but the situation is not very different. Special schools are still considered facilities that negatively affect real estate prices. Last year, a plan to build a special school was announced at a site near an apartment complex in Icheon, Gyeonggi. Signs opposing the school were hung up on the streets.
Let’s say your own child needs special services. Will you still think that having a special school near your home is not desirable? Can you say that having a special school in the area negatively affects education?
The local residents I met around Miral School say there have been no negative impacts from having special students in the neighborhood. They actually say their presence helps educate children about disabilities. Lee Jeong-wu, 36, was reading some books to his daughter at the school library. “We attend a church service at the school auditorium along with children with disabilities, and my daughter has learned that they are not different,” he said.
Students who are educated alongside peers with disabilities feel the same. Dongmyeong High School in Seoul has students who study in the same classroom as special needs students and help them in their school life. Choi Jin-yeoung, 18, is one of these students. She says, “I realized I was prejudiced, and I became more responsible. Now it is a learning experience for me as well.”
In the capital, additional special schools are not constructed because of opposition from local residents. The tragedy over special schools should end here. We must not pass down a culture of neglecting others. Instead of signs opposing special schools, I’d like to see signs welcoming students with special needs.
*The author is a national news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 6, Page 29
by SHIN JIN