Seoul court acquits teachers of bribery chargesA Seoul court on Wednesday ruled in favor of two private school teachers who accepted money and gifts from the parents of their students.
The teachers, who work at Gyeseong Elementary School, were both charged with taking bribes but later acquitted by the Seoul Central District Court.
The ruling prompted an angry response from those in the education circle, with Kim Hyung-nam, the inspector of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, calling the decision “embarrassing.”
One of the teachers, surnamed Shin, 48, stood accused of taking cash, gift certificates and gifts worth a total of 4.6 million won ($3,930) from two parents over multiple occasions when he taught fourth-grade last year.
The other, surnamed Kim, 45, was accused of accepting 4 million won as well as valuables from one parent.
The court ruled Wednesday that while Shin had accepted the money and gifts, those actions did not amount to bribe-taking.
He was asked to do general favors for the students, the court said, but did not carry out unlawful favors in return for compensation.
Kim was also acquitted after the testimony provided by the parent in question was deemed unreliable.
According to the prosecution, Shin was asked to write positive comments about a student in return for the money and gifts.
He was also asked to send the child to the nurse’s office if necessary, not to scold the student when checking assignments and to generally take good care of the child.
The prosecution said it will review the ruling and decide whether it will appeal.
“A parent giving money to a teacher in and of itself is illegal, and improperly evokes discrimination among students on the premises,” said an official from the prosecution. “Also, Kim accepted the money.”
The case marked the first time the “one strike-out” policy, formulated by Seoul Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon, was applied by the education office.
The policy was introduced in August with the aim to root out corruption in the education field; even accepting a small amount could make a faculty member subject to dismissal.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said it would still request that the school fire the teachers.
“This is a problem already: A teacher is receiving millions of won from parents, and regardless of the type of favor requested, he or she should be severely disciplined,” said Kim Dong-seok, the spokesperson for the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations. “It violates the ethics a teacher should have.”
BY BAEK MIN-KYUNG and SEO BOK-HYEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]