|▲ School's management method for school bullying is opening the School Violence Committee. (Photo from Chosunnews)|
Last year, the Ministry of Education announced a new policy entitled, ‘Improvement of School Violence Response Procedures’ and declared that the ministry will do their best to aid each school in solving the problem of school violence in a strict and educational way. Under the terms of the new policy, the ministry decided to relocate the School Violence Committee (SVC) to the Education Assistance Office under the Ministry of Education, when it used to be located in each school. The main reason for the relocation was to improve the committee’s professionalism and reduce the school’s work burden. However, will this transfer truly lead to the betterment of the process to address violence in schools?
When undergoing an investigation, the School Violence Committee follows 3 steps: it summons the people who are directly involved and takes notice of the results and any objections. As already mentioned, the core reason for the announcement from the ministry was to improve the professionalism of the process. Since a majority of middle and high schools are adolescents, the whole process is supervised by teachers and school parents and school parents hold a majority on the investigating panel. According to the survey by the Seoul Metropolitan of Education, about 30% of the school violence cases in 2017 had gone through a controversy due to the impartial investigation of teachers like perjury or insufficient probes. That was the reason why the parents hold a majority. However, no matter how fair the parents can be, according to a press conference with the Korean Federation of Teacher's Association, argued that parents cannot be the majority for the committee because they are not professionally trained legal experts and can be even more emotional than teachers. As a result, the ministry developed a solution, which was to fill up the panel with professionals from the Education Department Support Office in each region. However, although the responsibility of the committee was transferred to a bigger department and now includes more professional members when reviewing cases, they only have testimony and evidence collected by the school to rely upon. This means that the only thing that has changed is that there are more qualified members on the committee as the evidence provided remains the same. This is arguably not that much different from the former system. Most objections to the former system were due to the distrust toward the teachers’ investments. Parents felt teachers who handled the cases were incapable of being impartial in the process and since the new system still relies on the information collected by teachers, one can argue that the impartiality remains.
|▲ The Ministry of Education decided to move the School Violence Committee in order to solve the bullying problem more effectively. (Photo from Yonhap news)|
In addition, any objections to committee decisions must proceed in the form of administrative litigation or other kinds of lawsuits, which means now the students have to fight in a more direct and legal way. According to last year’s data from the Education Office, the number of cases against the School Violence Committee increased more than two times from 2016 where there were 45 cases to 86 cases in 2017 and in the first half 2018 alone, more than 40 cases were received. The reason for the increase in numbers is because it is very hard to deliver a decision that satisfies both the perpetrator and victim. The perpetrators do not want to leave anything bad on their records, while the victim wants them to be properly punished and for their own safety to be guaranteed from other predators in the future. However, during the entire reformation process, what students really wanted to see happen was not delivered.
Countries in Europe focus on self-reflection for the perpetrator and the protection of the victim, rather than punishment. In England, each school furnishes detailed manuals containing clauses classified by race, parents’ economic level, the characteristics of the regional community and so on. Then each school makes decisions for each school violation based on their local manual and arranges diverse solutions depending on the circumstances of the people involved. This is certainly different from Korea’s system. In Korea, most of the processes do not strictly follow any manual and existing manuals are not specifically classified in details as they are in England. Without a deeply considerate and detailed manual, our new system, which relies only on additional, more professional jurists, will not lead to any effective change. Like the good examples that can be found in advanced European anti-bullying systems in schools, we need to make our goal, caring for the students’ psychological injury to prevent any reoccurrences instead of simply punishing the perpetrator.
While relocation sometimes delivers better results, in this case, it doesn’t improve the level of trust for the committee’s impartiality. Attaching the importance of professionalism to committee members is a good direction for the School Violence Committee system, but we also need to reconsider what is best for all the students involved. Decreasing the portion of parents on the committee and refilling it with professionals is good, but I hope the ministry makes a detailed manual for committee members to follow and finds a better way to deliver real justice through more realistic protection of the victim.