Penalty system kept students from coming forward

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Penalty system kept students from coming forward

The students at a Seoul public school whose principal and four teachers are being investigated over sexual misconduct allegations said they felt discouraged from coming forward with their complaints due to the school’s strict penalty-points system, which can potentially affect college admissions chances.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has been carrying out an inspection on the school since July 22, and police are currently investigating the five men over a slew of sexual harassment claims - both physical and verbal - concerning 130 female teachers and students since early 2014.

When the JoongAng Ilbo looked into the case, it found that the school was running a unique penalty-points system, the guidelines of which were so specific that penalties could be handed to students wearing different types of makeup.

One penalty point is given if a student wears makeup on one part of the face - lipstick, for example - while three points are given if a student wears two or more kinds of makeup.

Students are also given penalty points for obscene or inappropriate behavior.

“Other schools also give out penalty points for inappropriate behavior, but my school is too strict,” said one second-year male student. “If a boy teasingly grabs a girl’s wrist, a teacher would give him two penalty points.”

“I can’t believe that such indescribable sexual crimes occurred at a school that is so strict on student behavior,” a local parent added.

Other students also complained that teachers could give up to 10 penalty points for behavior not stipulated in school regulations.

“Some teachers even make up unreasonable excuses to give students penalty points,” said a senior at the high school.

“I was once given penalty points for quietly yawning,” another student added.

Students with 20 or more penalty points are sent before a disciplinary committee and prohibited from running for class president or competing in intramural contests.

A student sent to the disciplinary committee twice is no longer allowed to take part in academic competitions, and the school will not provide letters of recommendation for college admissions or study-abroad programs.

“The system seems to be in place for the convenience of the teachers and it looks to be problematic in that it’s connected to letters of recommendation and other competitions,” commented one principal from a high school in Gangnam District, southern Seoul.

The penalty system emerged in the early 2000s after corporal punishment was prohibited at schools. Hearings were then conducted to decide regulations and punishments.

The public high school in question, however, failed to properly collect public opinions when it opened in 2013.

Following the sexual misconduct allegations last week, the Seoul Metropolitan Council called for stern measures to be levied on teachers who commit sexual crimes.

“The principal and those teachers should be banned from teaching indefinitely,” Kim Saeng-hwan, the chairman of the Special Committee on Human Rights, said in a briefing on Monday.

“[The education authority] also needs to provide education on sexual crimes and human rights and closely monitor them.”

“There should be strict measures to prevent sexual crimes at schools, since we often see these types of crimes stem from a lack of systemic devices to prevent and deal with them,” he added. “We desperately need compulsory education to raise awareness on human rights, not just at schools, but across society.”

BY NOH JIN-HO, BAEK MIN-KYUNG [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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