The Korea Herald


Funeral wreaths and ‘green terrorism,’ an unsual controversy at Seoul schools

Parents, Seoul education office clash over school rebuilding project

By Kan Hyeong-woo

Published : Sept. 8, 2021 - 16:40

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Fences at Seoul Eonbuk Elementary School in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, are covered with ribbons normally used to decorate funeral wreaths, Wednesday. (Reader submission) Fences at Seoul Eonbuk Elementary School in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, are covered with ribbons normally used to decorate funeral wreaths, Wednesday. (Reader submission)
The clash over Seoul education authorities’ Green Smart Future School project is growing, with some opponents accusing the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education of “green terrorism” and putting children at risk, expressing their opposition by sending condolence wreaths or ribbons to the school.

The form of sending condolence messages has been widely adopted as a form of protest in recent months, particularly during the pandemic where holding rallies are more strictly prohibited for social-distancing purposes.

The project aims to rebuild or renovate 93 schools built more than 40 years ago, as part of the Korean New Deal’s 10 major tasks.

Parents’ associations of schools selected for the project, however, say the plans are ill-thought, and that they are putting children’s education and safety at risk.

Calling for the withdrawal of the school rebuilding project, a parent association of 10 elementary and middle schools in the capital held a press conference in front of the SMOE on Tuesday. Of the 10 schools, eight have sent an official request to the Seoul education office asking to be taken off the list.

“Schools subject to the project have been unilaterally selected. Stop the experiments on children. What children need is the right to safe learning,” the group said.

The group said the construction would only force students to move to a different school altogether or that their children will be subject to hazardous environments studying in temporary modular buildings set up in the schoolyard.

The parents said the classrooms in modular buildings are so small that students in the last row are backed up against the wall, adding that some children are experiencing dizziness and skin allergies from bad ventilation.

Parents of Seoul Eonbuk Elementary school argued that the redevelopment is unnecessary as the buildings in question have passed safety tests last year and lack grounds to be demolished. They also said there was no adequate consultation nor ample discussion on why or how the changes are needed at the schools.

The Seoul education office said in a press release that it is paying attention to various concerns and criticisms from parents in regard to the Green Smart Future School project.

The SMOE refuted the parents’ claims and reaffirmed its will to continue with the project. 

“The claims that tablets replacing textbooks will cause physical and mental problems for children or they will provide a cause for students to not study and installing Wi-Fi will infringe on the learning right and lead to gaming addiction and lack of learning are exaggerated,” the Seoul education office said.

The project will create an environment for customized individual learning and remote class systems, the SMOE said, and wireless internet connections, which are already installed at schools, block access to harmful websites that are irrelevant to learning. The Seoul education office added that all smart devices at schools are equipped with the Mobile Device Management program, allowing teachers to control the devices so that students can only use them for learning or studying.

Regarding concerns over the safety of the temporary modular buildings, the SMOE said they are not “container classrooms,” unlike what some claimed, but intact structures that are resistant to earthquakes, fire and heat. The Seoul education office also said it plans to install sprinklers, ventilation systems and air purifiers in all modular buildings.

“The safety of students and faculty members in schools is not an issue that can be compromised. Improving school facilities that threaten the safety of students and faculty is indispensable and it is the justified responsibility of the education office,” Seoul Education Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon said.

“We plan to come up with measures to address the concerns of schools and parents that are being raised now by actively communicating with the educational community.”

Last month, the Seoul education office announced a list of 93 schools in the city chosen for the Green Smart Future School project. The redevelopment project is expected to be completed in 2025.