Korean teachers to be allowed to remove disruptive students, ban phones

The new policy will apply to teachers working in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

Park Jun-hee

Park Jun-hee

The Korea Herald


Teachers hold a rally in Seoul's Gwanghwamun Square calling for teachers' rights to be protected by law on Aug. 5. PHOTO: YONHAP/THE KOREA HERALD

August 18, 2023

SEOUL – Teachers will be allowed to remove disruptive students and confiscate their mobile phones if they continue to interrupt classroom operations and disturb other students starting next month, the Education Ministry said during a policy briefing Thursday.

The new policy will apply to teachers working in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

If a student fails to comply with a teacher’s instructions, teachers can ask the head of their schools for permission to hand out punishments to the student, the ministry said. Teachers and heads of schools can assign specific tasks to students, such as requiring them to write a letter of apology to reflect on their behavior.

Current students’ rights ordinances bar teachers from requesting punishment. It said the new policy aims to bolster teachers’ rights and to protect all students’ right to learn.

In urgent cases, teachers will be allowed to use force to physically restrain disruptive students if they pose a physical threat to teachers or other students and attempts at verbal discipline do not work. Currently, using physical force against students is prohibited under the students’ rights ordinance.

The policy will also require students or their parents to raise any objections regarding a teacher’s teaching methods with the head of the school, rather than addressing the teacher directly.

Under the new rules, teachers and parents can also request meetings with each other and must respond to these requests. The meeting must happen during a teacher’s working hours and should be scheduled in advance. Teachers can immediately stop the meeting if they are subjected to abusive language or threats, or are physically assaulted, the ministry explained.

Each school will be given the autonomy to develop its own guidelines according to its values and learning environment.

“Students’ rights were overly emphasized, which led to a decline in teachers’ rights and their education activities being disrespected. Teachers had difficulty cracking down on the use of phones (in class), which led to the violation of other students’ right to education,” Education Minister Lee Ju-ho said in a press briefing.

The policy was unveiled a month after the apparent suicide of an elementary school teacher sent shock waves across the country. The 23-year-old elementary school teacher in Seoul’s Seocho-gu died last month, reportedly after struggling to deal with an unruly student and excessive complaints from parents. The police have been investigating the case, but said overall they haven’t found anything to warrant criminal charges thus far.

Educators, however, have since demanded protection against their rights to manage the classroom effectively, discipline students appropriately and deal with “disrespectful” parents.

The new policy will also allow teachers to advise parents to seek counseling or expert treatment for their child if they think it is necessary for a student’s development.

Also, preschool heads will be given the right to establish rules on a kindergarten teacher’s duties and responsibilities, as well as how the kindergarten will arrange parent-teacher meetings and handle any infringement of educational activities. The rules will then be relayed to preschoolers’ guardians, and kindergartens will have to receive parental consent for the regulations.

When the rules are breached, the kindergarten will be able to expel or suspend the child, or ask parents to receive parental education or counseling.

The ministry will also work to improve cooperation between special education teachers and teachers of regular classrooms. According to the ministry, the measures for special education teachers will be announced in the latter half of the year.

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