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Moon calls for teachers’ deaths to be recognized as ‘on duty’

May 16,2017
President Moon Jae-in issued an order on Monday to recognize the deaths of the two contract teachers of Danwon High School who died with their students in the Sewol ferry as “deaths on duty,” granting the long-held request of their relatives.

“President Moon ordered the two teachers’ deaths to be recognized as ‘deaths on duty’ today, Teachers’ Day,” said Yoon Young-chan, senior presidential press secretary during a press briefing. “The National Human Rights Commission of Korea has called for the recognition of their deaths as ‘deaths on duty,’ and the president pledged this in his campaign.”

When the ferry sank on April 16, 2014, in waters southwest of Jindo, an island in South Jeolla, a total of 11 teachers from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi, died on the ferry with 250 students. Among them, nine were salaried teachers, and except the two whose remains have not yet been found, seven of them were recognized to have died on duty.

But the deaths of the two contract teachers, Kim Cho-won and Lee Ji-hye, were not recognized as deaths on duty because the Public Officials Pension Act does not count employees on contract as public officials.

“I don’t know what the difference between a contract teacher and a salaried teacher would be in this case,” Kim’s father, Kim Seong-wook, told the JoongAng Ilbo last month. “My daughter worked as hard as any other teacher at the school.”

The two contract teachers are alleged to have died while trying to save the students, as some survivors have recounted that the two went downstairs from the fifth floor of the ferry to the fourth floor, where a majority of the students’ cabins were, to tell them to put on their life vests. That was the last time anyone saw them alive.

“My daughter could have made it out if she had escaped with other crew members on the fifth floor,” Kim said. “But she went downstairs to save the students, and when the bodies were found, the students were wearing life vests, but not my daughter.”

“She must have been close with the students,” he said, “because when her body was found, she was wearing the earrings and necklace given to her by the students the night before the ferry sank during a surprise birthday party they threw for her.”

Relatives of the two teachers and the National Contract Teacher Association have been asking for the recognition since June 2014, during the former administration led by Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and imprisoned over a corruption scandal.

“I am finally able to look into my daughter’s face in her photo without feeling shameful. It is the best gift I have ever received on Teachers’ Day,” Kim said on Monday after hearing the news. “We couldn’t stop crying when my wife and I heard,” said Lee’s father Lee Jong-rak. “Finally, my daughter will be recognized as a teacher forever.”

“President Moon has also ordered to come up with a measure to ensure that from now on, those who die wile on duty for the country should be recognized as having died on duty, regardless of whether they were salaried or contract workers,” Yoon said.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, YU GIL-YONG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]