Yoon calls for devising guidelines to protect teachers’ rights

July 24, 2023

President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed the government on Monday to come up with comprehensive guidelines aimed at protecting teachers’ rights and enhancing their authority in classrooms, his spokesperson said.

Yoon gave the instruction during a meeting with his aides, apparently in response to the growing demand for addressing the erosion of teachers’ rights, following the apparent suicide of a young elementary school teacher in Seoul last week.

“Promptly devise an education ministry notification that is a detailed guideline for the field,” Yoon was quoted by Lee Do-woon as saying.

President Yoon Suk Yeol (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk Yeol (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Yoon also ordered revising unreasonable educational ordinances that can potentially infringe upon teachers’ rights in schools.

Yoon was apparently making reference to the student human rights ordinance that was first enacted in 2010 and has been enforced by seven regional education offices, including Seoul’s.

The ordinance bans corporal punishment by teachers as well as discrimination against homosexual and pregnant students, allows rallies on school grounds and gives students the freedom to choose their own hairstyles and clothing.

Although the ordinance has received praise for guaranteeing students’ rights, it has also faced criticism for making it difficult for teachers to guide and discipline students effectively at schools.

The teacher, known only as a 23-year-old woman in charge of first graders at Seoul Seoi Elementary School in southern Seoul, apparently took her own life in a classroom Tuesday morning. With no witnesses or suicide note known, police have immediately launched an investigation to find the exact cause of her death.

Several allegations surrounding her death have surfaced, including claims that she was under immense stress due to parents’ complaints about school violence. However, the school has denied the allegations.

In the wake of the tragedy, regional education offices enforcing the student human rights ordinance have begun to take steps to revise it.

The seven areas enforcing the ordinance are Seoul, Gyeonggi Province, Incheon, South Chungcheong Province, Gwangju, North Jeolla Province and Jeju.

In South Chungcheong Province, the provincial council began collecting signatures from residents wishing to abolish the ordinance early this year amid complaints of infringements of teachers’ rights.

More than 20,000 people signed the petition, far exceeding the 12,073 signatures required to make a petition. The provincial council plans to verify the validity of the signatures and begin deliberations on abolishing the ordinance as early as during its September session.

Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, said his office is actively reviewing whether to include a clause on students’ duties, in addition to their rights, in the ordinance.

Regional education offices are also looking to take stronger action against malicious requests or complaints from parents.

The Busan Metropolitan City Office of Education on Monday unveiled a set of measures to improve teachers’ rights, including setting up teams at the education office and support offices to directly respond to such complaints and filing a complaint with investigative authorities in the event of actions warranting criminal punishment.