Photo: Post-it notes with message for the deceased Seo-i Elementary School teacher. Credit: Yonhap News.
On July 18, a 24-year-old first-grade teacher at Seo-i Elementary School 서이초등학교 in Seoul’s Seocho-gu District 서초구, was found dead in her classroom after taking her own life. The ensuing media coverage revealed the teacher had been subjected to relentless bullying by parents, who repeatedly called her personal cell phone number to berate and threaten her, following an incident in which one of her students scratched another student with a pencil.
As the elementary school is surrounded by a thicket of luxury high-rise condominiums in which a single unit often sells for more than KRW 25t (USD 2.1m), the incident has prompted a discussion about how South Korea’s rich have coddled their children. The parents who bullied the teacher into killing herself reportedly claimed that they were lawyers and threatened to sue or file a police report against her.
The elementary school quickly disclaimed responsibility, saying the teacher, who was just two years out of college, had volunteered to teach the first grade, which is considered the most challenging job and is typically reserved for more experienced teachers. Teachers quickly pointed out that they are asked to rank their preferences for which of the six grades they will teach, meaning that even a teacher assigned to teach her least preferred grade has technically “volunteered.”
Hundreds of school teachers visited Seo-i Elementary School to pay their respects, leaving flowers and messages on post-it notes. The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union 전국교직원노동조합 issued a statement denouncing parental bullying: “We are witnessing an unfortunate death of a teacher, an individual who was left to face the pressures and strife of society on her own, due to the incompetence of political leaders and the irresponsibility of her supervisors.”
The Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration offered a different diagnosis: the teacher died because North Korea gave South Korean students too many human rights. An unnamed official in the Office of the President 대통령실 said in an interview with Kuki News 쿠키뉴스 that the Ordinance of Student Rights 학생인권조례, a “bill of rights” for students that began in 2010 in Gyeonggi-do Province 경기도 and spread nationwide, damaged the “right to teach 교권.”
The official claimed that the Ordinance, which prohibited corporal punishment and guaranteed the rights of minority students, was pushed by “leftist superintendents'' who were following North Korea’s directions to execute “a plot to destroy South Korea.”