1,500 private preschools delay semester
“We will push forward with the plan to postpone classes, and 1,553 private kindergartens will take part in this from Monday,” said Lee Deok-sun, head of the Korea Kindergarten Association (KKA), in a press conference Sunday. “Postponing the date of the opening of spring classes is completely legal as long as we keep to the law of holding a minimum of 180 days of classes in the year.”
In response, the superintendents of education of Seoul, Gyeonggi and Incheon announced in a press conference on Sunday that they will start the process of revoking the business licenses of private kindergartens that refuse to hold classes on Monday.
The superintendents also warned that they will dispatch local education officers and police to private kindergartens on Monday morning to check if they are open. Those that are closed will be ordered to open on Tuesday by the authorities.
If this order is not followed, the superintendents said in their joint statement that they will request a criminal investigation into the private kindergartens.
This is the latest development in a months-long tit-for-tat that began when the ruling Democratic Party (DP) Rep. Park Yong-jin exposed massive accounting fraud at over a thousand private kindergartens nationwide last October. Much of the scandal involved misuse of government funds.
After the scandal broke, Park proposed a sweeping bill that would revise acts on school meals, private schools and early childhood education to overhaul public funding for private kindergartens and make accounting more transparent at these institutes. The plan would force them to subscribe to an online system that reveals their accounting data to state auditors.
Park’s bill, as well as the Education Ministry’s own plan to build hundreds of new public kindergartens across the country, prompted a backlash from the KKA, which urged the DP and the government to retract the bill.
It is illegal for kindergartens in Korea to shut down without approval from the Ministry of Education. But some private kindergartens have threatened to do so nevertheless, stating that they are willing to risk fines and other disciplinary actions.
Although the KKA has put the number of private kindergartens postponing classes at some 1,500, the Ministry of Education, in an announcement on Saturday, put the number at 190, which is 4.9 percent of the 3,875 private kindergartens in Korea.
“The Ministry of Education twisted the figures to make it seem like only a small number of kindergartens are taking part in the protest,” the KKA said in its statement Sunday. “We repeat ourselves to get the facts right. There are 1,553 private kindergartens postponing classes.”
The association’s head, Lee, said, however, that he cannot reveal the list of the 1,553 private kindergartens to prove the number, “for the sake of protecting these institutes.”
In response to the KKA’s push to postpone classes, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said in an emergency meeting Saturday at the Central Government Complex in central Seoul that kindergartens will face consequences if they break the law.
“The kindergartens pushing forward with the postponement will be met by force of law,” Lee said. “If you think about our nation’s history, teachers did not stop teaching even after the breakout of the Korean War.”
On Friday, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said that if the kindergartens decide to postpone their starting dates without going through consultations with parents, it would be a violation of the Early Childhood Education Act, and that if the KKA forces its members to shut down, this would violate the Fair Trade Act.
For parents with children attending private kindergartens, especially households in which both parents work, the postponement of classes is bad news.
“These people running private kindergartens do not have their priorities right,” wrote one user in an online community on Sunday. “Do they really care for the welfare and rights of the children, or are they blinded by their selfish desires to use the institutes for their own monetary gain?”
“The kindergarten that my child has been attending for the past three years has not sent me even one text message to inform me about what is going to happen from Monday,” wrote another commenter.
“I can’t take my child to work, nor can I call in sick just because my child has to stay at home on Monday,” wrote another user. “I blame the kindergarten and the government for bringing us this trouble.”
Some parents hosted rallies on Sunday, including a group of parents in Yongin, Gyeonggi, who rallied in front of the Suji District Office in the afternoon.
Of the 90 private kindergartens scheduled to postpone classes from Monday in Gyeonggi, 27 are located in Yongin.
“We cannot let the KKA carry on in this manner,” said Won Mi-sun, head of the Yongin Educational Civic Forum. “This is an issue concerning the whole nation. We will continue to hold the rallies. Some parents are considering filing complaints for compensations.”
A survey by the Ministry of Education said they support a bill that will revamp the private kindergarten education system.
The Ministry surveyed 1,049 people last month, and 83.1 percent said they support the measure to force private kindergartens to subscribe to an online system that reveals their accounting data to state auditors.
Of the surveyed, 73.7 percent said they do not think the online system infringes on the property rights of private kindergartens.
The ministry’s plan to establish more public kindergartens throughout the country was also supported by 86.4 percent of those surveyed.
BY NAM YOON-SEO, LEE GA-YOUNG AND ESTHER CHUNG [email@example.com]