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Police launch belated probe into another teacher's suicide after parental harassment

Oct. 1, 2023 - 11:24 By Yonhap

Police have launched a probe into the suicide death of an elementary school teacher in Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul, for possible harassment by parents, nearly two years after his school reported the death merely as a fall, officials said Sunday.

The Uijeongbu Police Station has recently opened a probe into the death of Lee Yeong-seung who taught at Howon Elementary School after a regional education office requested an investigation into three parents on suspicions of infringing his education activities.

The December 2021 death is one of the latest reported cases of distressed teachers taking their own lives.

His school initially reported Lee's death as the result of "a simple fall" to the regional education office. However, suspicions about parental bullying emerged belatedly after the suicide of another distressed young teacher at an elementary school in southern Seoul in July made news headlines and led to the exposure of cases of teachers bullied by school parents.

Lee's case dates back to 2016, the first year he started teaching, when one of his students had injured his hand while cutting a plastic bottle during a class.

The school paid for the student's treatment twice through an insurance scheme, but his parent continued to contact Lee and demanded a meeting to discuss treatment even after he had taken a two-year leave of absence from the school to fulfill his mandatory military service.

Eventually, Lee paid a total of 4 million won (US$2,964) out of his own pocket in a span of eight months to the parent as the costs for treatment.

Lee was found to have suffered bullying from two other parents, one of whom exchanged a total of 394 text messages with Lee in 2021 about issues related to the student's class attendance.

In December that year, Lee was found dead near his home.

The regional education office's investigation into the case, announced last month, found that Lee's school had been aware of the difficulties he was facing due to abusive parents, but had turned a blind eye.

The office has requested a police investigation into the three parents on charges of business obstruction, and plans to hold a disciplinary committee meeting to decide the level of punishment for the school's former head and deputy head.

As personal information of the parent and the student in the class injury case was exposed by an Instagrammer last month, the web page of her employer, the nationwide agricultural cooperative Nonghyup, was flooded with messages calling for her dismissal.

Nonghyup issued an apology and sidelined her from duty while putting her on disciplinary "standby."

A hand-written poster was also put up at the university where the student currently studies, calling on him to drop out of the school.

Police are focusing their investigation on whether Lee paid the medical fees to the parent because she pressured him.

Officials said police plan to summon the three suspected parents for questioning following the Chuseok autumn harvest holiday. (Yonhap)