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[Ferry Disaster] Classes to resume after ferry tragedy

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Published : 2014-04-22 21:11
Updated : 2014-04-22 21:49

Danwon High School will attempt to resume classes starting Thursday, after many of its students lost their lives in last week’s ferry disaster, education officials said Wednesday.

But concerns remain over whether students and teachers ― many of whom are still suffering trauma from the accident ― are ready to get back to the classroom after losing so many classmates and teachers.

Authorities are mulling whether to allow students that survived the sinking to be taught at the hospital while being treated.

“We will assign new teachers and resume lessons while also providing therapy for all students,” Jung Sang-young, spokesman for the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education, said in a press conference in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province.

Of the 476 passengers aboard the Sewol, 325 were Danwon students. More than 60 students have been confirmed dead, with many others unaccounted for after the ferry sank in waters off the Jindo Island in South Jeolla Province last Wednesday.

Of the 14 teachers that accompanied the students on their field trip, four died and eight remain missing. The school’s vice principal, who was initially rescued, killed himself Friday, apparently due to guilt, adding to the grief and frustration among students and teachers at the school. 
Flowers are laid on the desks in Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday in condolence to the students who lost their lives during last week’s ferry sinking. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

Education officials said classes will resume soon for students that did not go on the field trip. Third-year students will return to school Thursday, while first-year students and 13 second-year students that did not join the disastrous school trip will start Monday.

A team of some 30 counselors and psychiatrists will provide psychological treatment for these students and teachers, some of whom were required to help identify students’ bodies.

Hospitalized students will continue to receive treatment, officials said.

“We are seeing if teachers can go to hospitals to teach the students that need to stay there for consistent treatment,” Jung said.

Five officials from the Gyeonggi education office are currently staying at the school and considering ways to normalize it.

Some experts said resuming school operations may help the students heal from their psychological scars.

“The school should be normalized as soon as possible,” said Lee So-young, a professor of psychology from Soonchunhyang University Hospital. “Prolonging the (current situation) can lead to more doubts and confusion among the students.”

In the process of returning to normal life, students will also need constant mental care, she added.

“Post traumatic stress disorder or depression can theoretically occur six months after (a traumatizing) incident,” she said. “Even if the problems do not pop up right now, we need to keep an eye (on the students).”

Korea University Ansan Hospital, where most of the student survivors are being treated, said 80-90 percent of the students were ready to be discharged on Wednesday.

Cha Sang-hoon, the head of the hospital, said that being discharged did not mean that the students were fully healed.

“The hospital is recommending students leave the hospital because a long-term stay can lead to further stress. To prevent side effects, it is important (for students) to promptly return to their homes and schools,” he said, adding that the students would receive regular treatment, including therapy.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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