Yongsan Christian preschool moves to off-base church
SEOUL — A long-running Christian preschool at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan that faced closure earlier this year for not being in compliance with regulations has been relocated to a Seoul church that eventually wants to expand the program as the military relocates to Pyeongtaek.
“We decided to see if it would work, and it worked beautifully,” said Jon Goldsmith, executive director of the Seoul International Baptist Church, which now operates the Mustard Seed Preschool. “It’s not really out of context for us because we have a large military presence at our church, and we were the closest church to the base, with a sizeable representation from the base.”
The private preschool opened at Yongsan in 1976 and operated out of the South Post Chapel. However, an anonymous complaint filed last October alleged unfair hiring practices and triggered an audit that led to the discovery of nine deficiencies within the program, including the possibility that it had been operating without a charter. The complaint was later revealed to have been filed by the preschool’s former director.
The garrison considered shutting down Mustard Seed during the spring semester, but news of the possible closure prompted an outcry from parents who said similar programs were not available in Seoul. The garrison ultimately allowed the preschool to remain open through May.
According to the church’s website, Mustard Seed’s move there “is designed to continue the Preschool as it has been run for years as the Yongsan Garrison prepares to move south from Seoul.”
It added that “all facets of the Program will remain the same (non-denominational curriculum, U.S. teachers, etc.,)” and transportation for students was available from the South Post Chapel.
The new Mustard Seed, formed with the approval of the South Korean government, is no longer affiliated with the military, although some employees are military spouses.
“The only thing that really changed was the location,” Goldsmith said.
The school has 64 students, ages three and four and is open to non-Korean children as well as the children of church members.
Goldsmith said the church plans to eventually open another branch of Mustard Seed near the expanding Camp Humphreys, though he did not know when.
Neither the initial complaint filed by the former Mustard Seed director – who had applied for the directorship of the preschool but been rejected – nor the subsequent Installation Management Command Pacific Region audit of the program were released to the public.
According to the garrison, the audit found at least seven areas where the program was not in compliance with Army regulations that were not correctable, leading to the decision to close it.