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Parents, residents spar over school for disabled
By Lee Kyung-min Posted : 2017-09-10
Parents of children with disabilities and residents in Gangseo-gu, western Seoul, are engaged in an escalating conflict over the construction of a special needs school there.
Parents say setting up a school designed to take care of children with chronic medical conditions is the only way to educate them because most schools refuse to accept them, saying they « disturb regular classes and other students find them bothersome. »
They also point out a lack of such schools, leading some to spend up to three hours commuting every day.
However, residents say such a school will decrease house and land prices. They instead prefer the construction of a traditional Korean medicine hospital, as proposed by Rep. Kim Sung-tae of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP).
The conflict came under the public spotlight after a video clip went viral that showed about 50 parents and 10 residents facing each other for hours kneeling at a public hearing at the Topsan Elementary School last Tuesday. They met to discuss setting up a school on land formerly occupied by Kongjin Elementary School.
More than 400 people attended the hearing including civic groups representing the disabled, parents with disabled children, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon and Rep. Kim who won the district after promising to build a traditional Korean medicine hospital ahead of the April general election last year.
In the clip, the two sides began kneeling after one of the parents, surnamed Jang, first knelt in mid-discussion, sobbing, « I’m a sinner for having a child with a disability. »
Jang, 47, with a teenage child diagnosed with intellectual disability, said she would take any insult for her child to attend school.
« I can take it if you beat me or insult me. You are all parents just as I am. Please let my child go to school near home, » she said.
Soon joining Jang was another mother, surnamed Kim, who has a child she said was practically forced out of an elementary school.
Kim burst into tears while explaining how she had to take her child to a school so far away from home, it required up to three hours of commuting.
However, their emotional pleading was met only with derision from the residents who shouted « Do not attempt to put on a show. »
Their children are among 645 requiring special needs education in the district. In Gangseo-gu, there is only one such school which can only accept up to 100 children.
According to SMOE, out of 12,804 children with disabilities, only about a third or 4,457 go to one of 30 special needs schools in 25 districts in Seoul. No special needs public school has been built since 2002 when Seoul Gyeongun School was built in Jongno-gu.
After the video clip went viral, almost 100 people signed a petition on a Cheong Wa Dae website supporting building the school in the district.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said it has no plans to build a hospital in the district.