One hundred villagers from the Bunong ethnic community in Roya Leu village in the Roya commune in Mondulkiri province’s northern Koh Nhek district have appealed to the provincial Department of Education not to replace a primary teacher at their local school.
Department chief Tem Sang Vat claimed that Roya Leu primary school teacher Sroeum Chonh had abused students and violated Ministry of Education principles.
However, in a letter to the department on October 28, the community said they had not asked to have Chonh replaced.
“We have never accused Chonh of abusing our students. Recently, Roya Leu village chief Chan Moeun gathered fingerprints from the community by claiming they were for a request to build a kindergarten, when he was actually using them to file a complaint to have Sroeum Chonh replaced,” the villagers said in the letter.
The community claimed only the parents of three students in Chonh’s class, which included the village chief, wanted him out of the school.
Chonh is a Grade 1 class teacher for 25 students. He had lectured some students on the school’s dress code, including Moeun’s daughter. He helped them tuck their shirts into their skirts and told some students to have their hair cut.
The parents and Roya Leu village chief accused Chonh of abusing their kids.
“Chonh told the son of [one complaining parents] to have his dyed hair cut. Later, he claimed his son had become ill, which he believed was caused by his son having his hair cut as it violated spiritual traditions. He had to sell a cow to pay for his son’s treatment,” one said.
The Post could not reach Moeun and the other parents for comment.
Hoy Chem, whose six-year-old daughter attends the school, said he had joined the campaign for Chonh to be allowed to remain at the school because he believed the teacher hadn’t done anything wrong. Moreover, Chonh was a teacher who could teach in both the Khmer and the Bunong languages. It would be unlikely a replacement teacher could.
“My daughter has never told me that her teacher uses violence. As far as I know, he only wants all students to dress in a good manner and not to grow their hair long,” he said.
Chonh said he has been a Grade 1 teacher for nine years, and he had always followed the school’s principles and never used violence.
He said he had only advised some students on how to dress according to the school code, but one student told her father, Moeun, that he had forced her to take off her skirt, he said.
“The student wrongly accused me of forcing her to take her skirt off,” he said.
Chonh said that transferring him would cause him trouble as the new school is located some 40km from his home.
He also said provincial Education Department chief Tem Sang Vat had believed what the complaining parents had claimed without him being able to defend himself before deciding to transfer him.
On October 21, Sang Vat announced that Chonh was to be removed and sent to Sre Chrey primary school in Koh Nhek district’s Nang Khylek commune.
Sang Vat said department officials had mediated in a dispute between the community and Chonh. At the time, Chonh had admitted to the allegations made by the community that he had abused students by grabbing their hair and removing their skirts.
“He agreed to acknowledge what the parents had accused him of, and he accepted and respected the ministry and department’s decision because all the parents wanted him to stop teaching at the school.
“But now he collects fingerprints from the community in support of him and to say he did nothing wrong. I don’t understand what he wants,” Sang Vat said.