Seoul Council passes student rights ordinance

By Lee Woo-young
  • Published : Dec 20, 2011 - 15:42
  • Updated : Dec 20, 2011 - 19:50

The Seoul Metropolitan Council passed an ordinance granting more rights to students amid controversy over some contested issues in the ruling that has caused a confrontation between a progressive and conservative group.

Until Monday when the ordinance was passed, the opposing groups protested four disputed points of the ordinance: respect of students’ sexual orientation, pregnancy and childbirth, religion and the right to hold collective protests.

But with the ordinance expected to take effect next March in all elementary, middle and high schools in Seoul, the progressive group which includes a teachers’ union, hailed the passing of the ordinance, welcoming the council’s decision. But the conservative group, representing about 63 teachers, parents and civic groups, vowed to use every possible means to block the ordinance from being implemented.

Under the ordinance, students are given “freedom from corporal punishment, any kind of verbal and nonverbal violation” at schools as well as “the right to express their personality through clothing and hairstyle.” However, schools can impose some guidelines on the length of hair and dress code, considering most secondary school students wear uniforms. 
Progressive and conservative civic groups hold rallies seperately in front of the Seoul Council on Friday, in show of their support, and opposition against, a controversial ordiance on student rights. (Yonhap News)

The schools will also be required to respect students’ right to stage a collective protest, the rights of students regarding sexual orientation and to not discriminate against students who are pregnant and give birth. Religious classes and events at schools will no longer be mandatory as well. These rights have drawn fierce criticism from the conservative group.

“The ordinance will be the foundation for democratic and anthropocentric education that upholds values such as participation, equality and care for others,” Democratic Party lawmakers of the Seoul Metropolitan Council said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The influence and impact the ordinance will have on our society will be much greater than the ordinances passed in other municipalities. The Seoul student rights ordinance will bring a big change in Korean schools and education,” they added.

Seoul became the third municipality to pass a students’ rights ordinance after Gyeonggi Province and Gwangju in South Jeolla Province.

The student rights ordinance was initiated by progressive civic groups and was supported by a petition with about 90,000 signatures of citizens since last July.

But the conservative Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association called the move short-sighted and politically motivated in its statement opposing the ordinance.

“The ordinance will bring about the collapse of the school system and undermine teachers’ rights. The members of the education subcommittee and opposition party-affiliated councilors who passed the ordinance will have to take responsibility for the consequences that schools will suffer because of the ordinance,” it said.

They also said that they will take legal action against the ordinance and launch a campaign against the city councilors who voted for it.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry expressed concern over the ordinance on Monday, saying it needs to be reconsidered because it may create confusion at schools and concern for parents and teachers.

“The ordinance will disrupt the students’ right to learn, and undermine teachers’ rights, and create confusion at schools. So, the ordinance needs to be reconsidered in its implementation,” it said. 

By Lee Woo-young  (