A school lunch so bad it’s criminal

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A school lunch so bad it’s criminal

A private high school in Seoul allegedly served terrible meals to students, and 18 people, including the principal, are accused of embezzling about 400 million won ($343,000) from the lunch budget.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education revealed on Sunday the result of three inspections of Choongam High School’s school meal system from May to August this year.

“We’ve found problems in the school meal system and evidence of embezzlement that adds up to at least 410 million won,” the education office said. “We’ve reported 18 people, including the principal, administrative officer and school meal subcontractors, to the prosecution and requested some of them be sacked.”

The school has been criticized for terrible food, and its vice principal openly scolded students who did not pay for meals.

A teacher said in a radio interview that the school did not replace cooking oil until it turned black and fried dishes sometimes had black powder on them.

The school is suspected to have tried to cover up the facts when the education office was about to start its inspection in May.

According to an education office inspection report acquired by the JoongAng Ilbo, a subcontractor who delivered food to the school was told to “only talk about the business and tell nothing about other affairs when the education office calls” by a former executive of the school meal subcontractor.

“Employees of subcontractors did not properly answer questions,” an official of the inspector’s office said, “and they appeared to be hiding something.”

The education office suspects the school siphoned off some of its food supplies to a nearby go center. Legendary go player Lee Chang-ho, 40, attended the high school and is known to have been trained at the go center.

“It was rumored that the go center was taking out some of our food supplies,” said a cook employed by the school meal subcontractor. “A person from the go center would come to our kitchen to ask for some more food supplies.”

“It’s possible that the school sold some of the food supplies and provided some of them to the go center,” an official of the inspector’s office said.

The report had statements from employees that support the accusations.

“After inspecting food supplies every morning, we’d set aside four 20-kilogram [44-pound] sacks of rice, about 30 percent of the vegetables and other supplies,” read a statement by a school employee in the report. “And then we’d take it [to the go center] in the afternoon by bike or car.”

The school and the go center deny the accusations.

BY BAEK MIN-KYUNG AND KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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