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[Editorial] Stop school violence

Government must make drastic reforms to tackle school bullying, restore justice

By Korea Herald

Published : March 3, 2023 - 05:30

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On Feb. 25, Chung Sun-sin offered to resign one day after he was appointed the head of the National Office of Investigation over controversy surrounding his son’s bullying in high school. But the public uproar shows no sign of dying down, with people calling for drastic reforms to tackle school violence.

Chung’s son not only verbally abused his classmate for eight months from May 2017, he also stayed at the school for nearly one year. This left the victim in a more traumatic state, even though the school board ordered Chung’s son to transfer schools. As a result, the victim suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder, and even attempted suicide.

The public is rightly upset about the remorseless son’s cruel bullying. Equally regrettable is that Chung, a prosecutor-turned-lawyer, filed lawsuits exploiting his legal expertise in a shameless way that defied the school board’s legitimate order for the school transfer of his wayward son.

The result was deeply troubling. While the victim still suffers from trauma, Chung's remorseless son entered the country’s top-notch Seoul National University -- a stark reminder of Korea’s unfair system and the selfish practices of those with power.

Aside from social injustice, the bullying incident involving Chung and his son lays bare the fundamental flaws of the education system in terms of a systematic response to potentially devastating bullying in school.

For starters, Chung’s son did not sustain any disadvantage for his egregious violations of basic school rules. Although the school ordered him to transfer, he continued to attend alongside his victim as a result of his parents’ legal delay tactics. He even made it into a prestigious university thanks to its admission policy that screens applicants only through their test scores.

Under the current education system, school bullies can easily get away with their misbehavior, especially if their parents are in powerful positions and willing to abuse their power and foot the legal bills to defend their troubled children.

As for the victims, as painfully revealed in Chung’s case, the education system utterly failed to protect bullying victims. While the legal fight dragged on, school authorities were unable to separate the perpetrator from his victim. This led to a dreadful situation of secondary victimization -- a glaring failure on the part of the education system.

As a lawyer, Chung is supposed to understand the dangers of resorting to unnecessary litigation to defend the wrong side and only sparingly use his legal expertise for his family and relatives, given that he had worked for the prosecution for about 20 years.

But such reasonable logic does not apply to the country’s education and legal fields, as tactical lawsuits similar to Chung’s case are on the rise. Education authorities in charge of handling school bullying receive 20,000 to 30,000 cases each year. In tandem with the growing number of parents’ lawsuits aimed at neutralizing school boards' orders targeting bullies, more lawyers are jumping into the rapidly expanding legal market.

It is said that parents often pay huge sums of money to legal defense teams who succeed in dragging out a legal fight until their bully children graduate from high school.

This suggests that if you are by luck born to rich and powerful parents, you can get away with verbally and physically harassing your classmates, and then safely get admitted into a top-ranked university. Often, these bullies become members of the elite in Korean society -- a deplorable reality that spawns unfairness. The system allows for them to avoid penalties for wrongdoings from childhood thanks to legal technicalities.

It was in 2012 that the Act on the Prevention of and Countermeasures against Violence in Schools was enacted. Over the past decade, however, the legal mechanism designed to prevent school violence has done little to protect innocent children from bullies and their shameless parents. Drastic reforms are urgently needed to protect innocent children and restore justice in the education field.