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[Newsmaker] Cram schools prepare lawsuit over 'unfair' virus restrictions

A cram school in Seoul is closed Tuesday after the government raised the social distancing shceme to Level 2. (Yonhap)
A cram school in Seoul is closed Tuesday after the government raised the social distancing shceme to Level 2. (Yonhap)
Local cram schools are planning to take legal action against the government, saying they have been treated unfairly in being forced to close their doors under stricter social distancing schemes.

Directors for a number of cram schools in the capital region, which includes Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, are preparing to file a lawsuit against the government for forcing after-school study institutes to halt operations amid Level 2.5 social distancing.

The cram school directors are in search of other academies to join the class-action lawsuit. The first round of the suit will be filed when the number of participants hits 100, and more participants will be sought for a second round.

“Cram schools, parents and students believed in the government’s five-level social distancing system, but the government broke that trust itself,” said the head of JungChul English School’s Bupyeong Campus in Incheon, who leads the class-action lawsuit.

“The government imposed a three-week ban on cram schools in the capital region, but many of us believe that can be extended in January. It is already difficult for us, and if that happens, we just cannot survive.”

While enforcing Level 2.5 social distancing for the capital region and Level 2 for other areas until Dec. 28, the government additionally ordered all cram schools and private educational institutions in the capital region to shut their doors, except for those related to college preparations.

Under the current system, the study centers are allowed to operate until 9 p.m. under Level 2.5 social distancing, and they are only to be closed under the strictest social distancing of Level 3.

The government said it added the schools to the list of facilities barred from operation as they seek to deter students from multiple schools gathering in enclosed locations during the winter vacation.

Yet most schools have postponed their winter vacations to start in January, as opposed to this month.

The after-school institutes say they have already struggled too much, and that any additional operational limits will put them at the edge of bankruptcy and complete closure. They have shifted to online classes again, but that hasn’t helped much to recover lost income from previous months.

“The government broke its promise and even made the announcement in a surprise so that cram schools can’t make any preparations ahead. This is a breach of promise with the people, and if the government can’t keep its promise, neither can we,” said a national cram school organization in a statement Thursday.

“Cram school educators are standing at the edge of a cliff, and our anger has reached its peak. We will no longer remain as scapegoats for unfair and illogical government policies.”

Cram schools argue that private educational facilities are safer than other facilities that students visit, as they do not eat or drink while attending.

Limiting cram schools from operation will in effect force students to more vulnerable areas and expose themselves to the virus, they say, adding that cram schools have always faced disadvantages from Korea’s virus control measures.

The government remains firm on its measures in place, saying it has no plans to change any restrictions imposed until Dec. 28, nor does it have plans in place to support the struggling after-school sector.

An Education Ministry official said the additional limitations were made in consideration of opinions from experts that warned of the virus gaining greater spread among the younger population.

More students attend cram schools than internet cafes and restaurants, which marks them as higher-risk facilities, the official said.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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