Elementary school students fight to keep school

By: Kim Se-jeong

A group of fifth graders in the southern coastal city of Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, joined their parents and teachers in a fight to save their school, Thursday.

Fourteen students of Yeodo Elementary School in Yeosu held a rally in front of the school to protest the city government’s plan to shut down the affiliated middle school and instead build a foreign language high school.

They held posters that read: “Please save us.” “We are against a private foreign language high school,” and “Do not ignore our plea. We have the right to speak up about the fate of our school.” Later that day, the students held another protest in front of city hall.

Yeodo elementary and middle schools were established by the Yeodo Education Foundation, a private organization set up 35 years ago jointly by 20 chemical companies there for children of their employees and locals. The firms raise 3.7 billion won for the schools’ operation every year.

About a year ago, Yeosu Mayor Ju Cheol-hyeon pledged to turn the elementary school into a public school, demolish the middle school and build a foreign language school on the site.

The city said the plan is to serve the public. “The region is heavily populated and due to a lack of schools, parents have to send their children to schools in other regions,” a city official said. “People wanted a new public school in the district.”

The Yeodo school community was outraged that the city government is pushing ahead with the plan without their consent. “The city is ignoring 550 students on campus,” a school representative said. “Opening a foreign language high school was Ju’s campaign pledge, and it is politically motivated.”

Some criticized the school for mobilizing young students for the fight and putting words into their mouths. But students said they themselves decided on the action at a homeroom meeting.

One student at the rally said, “If the school disappears, I will not have a middle school to go to. I do not understand how this can happen, and I am here because I want people to know about it.”

But the city official said, “We’re doing this not because of the mayor, but because there was a consensus that Yeosu needs to give local children a better education.”

The city government is also at odds with the regional education office that says it is violating the law as decisions on schools are the office’s prerogative.

The city said it would talk with the opponents and try to find ways to provide a middle school. The teachers and employees at the school say their fight will continue until the plan is scrapped.

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