(LEAD) Education minister asks for teachers to refrain from collective action

Education minister Lee Ju-ho on Sunday asked for teachers to refrain from taking a leave of absence to attend a planned mass rally as he vowed measures to enhance their rights and authority in the classroom.

Lee made the plea as many school teachers plan to take a day off Monday to attend a rally commemorating a young teacher's death and to demand enhanced teachers' rights, a cause which gained momentum following the 20-something female elementary school teacher's suicide in southern Seoul last month.

It was followed by the deaths of two more teachers, one each in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, and Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, in recent days.

"I have heard the urgent cries of the teachers amid the hot weather over the past few weeks, and I have come to realize how much pain they have endured," Lee said during a meeting of superintendents at the government complex in downtown Seoul. "The Ministry of Education has developed a comprehensive plan for restoring and strengthening educational authority and is pushing for legislation to ensure legitimate educational activities are distinguished from child abuse crimes."

Lee took a softer approach after he warned last week of disciplinary actions as severe as dismissal or criminal charges against teachers and school principals who attend the rally. In response, a progressive teachers' union lodged a complaint against the minister on charges of abuse of authority.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 teachers are expected to participate in the Monday rally to be held in the evening in front of the National Assembly, the event's organizer said.

The participants will demand the government find the truth behind the young teacher's suicide while calling on parliament to approve a measure to protect teachers' rights and on the education ministry to withdraw its warning against teachers taking part in the rally.

On Saturday, around 200,000 teachers from around the country gathered in Seoul to commemorate the recent deaths of the young teachers and to call for the better protection of their rights.

Teachers believe their deceased colleagues were all under excessive stress due to pushy parents. They also demand amendments to an ambiguous clause in the Child Welfare Act that can hold teachers accountable for child abuse for what they consider to be necessary disciplinary action.

On Sunday, the ministries of education and justice said they have agreed to form a task force to discuss ways to enhance teachers' rights by revising the child abuse reporting rules and their implementation in the classroom.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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