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Court rules on high school entry

Apr 12,2019
Korean middle school students can apply for both autonomous private high schools and general high schools, the Constitutional Court ruled Thursday, calling the government’s amendment that banned applying to both unconstitutional.

The same court, however, said the government amendment that banned autonomous private high schools from admitting students earlier than general high schools was constitutional. That means autonomous private high schools have to recruit students around the same time as general high schools.

Autonomous high schools are different in that they have more autonomy in implementing curriculum compared to other high schools, according to descriptions from the Education Ministry. They are also allowed to employ diverse and specialized educational programs with more autonomy given to school management.

The ruling was a split victory for the country’s elite autonomous private high schools, who opposed the government’s decision from December 2017 to amend education laws so that middle school students had to choose between either applying for an autonomous private high school or a general high school. Legal revisions were also introduced to force autonomous private high schools to hold their admission procedures at the same time as general high schools. In that case, if a middle school applicant gets turned down by an autonomous private high school, the student would randomly be sent to a nearby general high school that lacks new students.

Originally, middle school students could apply for autonomous private high schools several weeks to months before general high schools. That way, if they were rejected by autonomous private high schools, they could have a second chance to apply to a general high school of their choice.

Those two major revisions were part of a larger education drive by the progressive Moon Jae-in administration to scrap all autonomous private high schools across the nation in order to discourage private education.

Autonomous private high schools filed for a constitutional appeal, leading to Thursday’s ruling from the Constitutional Court. To nullify the revisions before then, autonomous private high schools asked the Constitutional Court to issue a preliminary injunction suspending the two amendments. But in July 2018, the Constitutional Court issued an injunction that only suspended the amendment that banned middle school students from applying to both an autonomous private high school and a general high school.

So late last year, when high schools began their admissions procedure for selecting this year’s freshmen, middle schools students could apply to both an autonomous private high school and a general high school, but autonomous private high schools were forced to hold their admission procedures around the same time as general high schools. Korea has four types of high schools: general high schools, special-purpose high schools, vocational high schools and autonomous high schools. Autonomous high schools and special-purpose high schools are commonly perceived to be elite schools.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]