"Forcing a First-Grader to Stay in an Empty Classroom Is Not Discipline, It is Abuse"

Yu Sul-hee 2021. 1. 28. 19:10
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If a teacher left a six-year-old child who did not follow her instructions alone in an empty classroom for eight minutes, is this a legitimate disciplinary measure or emotional abuse? The Supreme Court ruled that even the so-called “time out,” a disciplinary method that isolates a child in another space giving her time to think, should be punished as child abuse, if it is enforced at a level that can harm the mental health and development of the child.

On January 27, Petty Bench 3 of the Supreme Court (chief justice Kim Jae-hyung) backed the court decision from an appellate trial sentencing A, an elementary school teacher, to a fine of three million won for violating the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Child Abuse Crimes (aggravated punishment for child abuse by a person working in child welfare facilities).

In April 2019, A forced B, a first-grader in A’s class, to stay alone in an empty room next to the classroom for eight minutes for interrupting the class and not listening to the teacher. The room where B was put in solitary was referred to as the “hell pool” by the children.

During the trial, the debate was on whether A’s action was an act to discipline the student or child abuse. A argued that she disciplined the student using the “time out” method, which isolates a child in another location giving him time to think. The name “hell pool” also stirred controversy. A argued, “It was just a nickname from a children’s book, and not a scary place.”

In the first trial, the bench found A guilty of child abuse.

The act of isolating a child who had started school only a month ago and forcing him to stay in a place outside the teacher’s vision, could give the child a sense of fear. The act also posed the risk of additional accidents, such as the child leaving the designated location. The court said that given that another teacher saw B alone in the room and brought him back to his classroom, A could have neglected B, leaving him in a dangerous place.

The court also said, “The name ‘hell pool’ may have come from a children’s book, but the name alone can sow fear in children,” and further explained, “The victim spoke of the hell pool as if he was scared and other children in his class also understood the hell pool as a place where they were scolded.”

The fact that such a disciplinary measure went beyond the standard set by the school rules was also a reason for the guilty verdict. A’s school only permitted isolation as a disciplinary measure when it was restricted to inside the classroom.

A was also charged for using the phone numbers of parents she had kept for educational purposes and sending text messages asking 23 parents to write a petition in connection to this case (violation of the Personal Information Protection Act). In the first trial, the court found A guilty saying, “Her usage clearly went beyond the purpose of collecting the personal information.”

The bench in the first trial also pointed out the fact that A had pressed B in the classroom saying, “What is this? I only said something because of what you did,” for telling his parents about the incident. The court sentenced A to a fine of three million won. The judges in the second trial found no faults with the original ruling, and the Supreme Court also dismissed A’s final appeal.

“Time out,” which is carried out in a variety of ways, such as having a child sit in the “thinking chair” for a certain amount of time, has been widely used because it was not seen as punishment. But the latest court decision shows that such disciplinary methods can also be punished as child abuse if it harms the child’s mental health and development. Last March, the Supreme Court also recognized the actions of a childcare teacher who forced a four-year-old child to sit on top of a 78-centimeter-tall shelf for 40 minutes as emotional abuse.

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