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Inexcusable response to bullying

November 24, 2016

Inexcusable response in bullying case



The bullying in Yokohama of an elementary school student who was evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture following the March 2011 nuclear disaster highlights an apathetic attitude on the part of school officials and the municipal board of education. They deserve severe criticism for their inaction and lack of awareness of the difficulties faced by Fukushima evacuees. Behind the bullying was the prejudice held by some students against evacuees from the areas impacted by the disaster’s radiation fallout. It’s easy to imagine that similar bullying is happening in other parts of the country against children of similar circumstances.

The bullies’ attitude toward Fukushima evacuees can likely be attributed to the prejudice and misunderstanding that adults around them have about the prefecture and its residents. It is important for adults to have an accurate understanding of what has happened in Fukushima so they can properly educate their children on the issue. Parties concerned, including the national and local governments, should make serious efforts to disseminate proper information about Fukushima and the hardships that evacuees have endured.

Soon after the boy moved to the school in Yokohama as a second-grader in August 2011, some classmates started to call him names such as “germ.” Then they began to physically assault him. The next year the bullying got so severe that he didn’t attend school from June till October. When he returned, the bullying resumed and in 2014 escalated to the point where some classmates began to extort money from him.

The boy said that in demanding the money, the classmates told him his family must have been given compensation for damage from the nuclear disaster — a statement that demonstrates a callous attitude toward those who experienced severe suffering as a consequence of the three reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. In total, his classmates extorted about ¥1.5 million. Because of the persistency of the bullying, the boy refused to go to school throughout fiscal 2015, when he was in the sixth grade.

It is reported that when the boy was in the second and third grades, his homeroom teachers told his tormentors to stop the bullying, but the school did little else to help him. In a note about the situation, the boy wrote, “I appealed to teachers many times, but they did not believe me. … They ignored me.”

His parents told authorities at the school and the Yokohama Board of Education in 2014 about the bullying and asked them to take proper action. The school held meetings of teachers concerned and questioned the boy’s classmates, but it did not take further action on the grounds that the testimonies by the boy and his classmates did not match and it was impossible to determine if he had been bullied.

The school officials’ inaction is deplorable given the severity of the bullying and the fact that the boy repeatedly asked teachers for help. Moreover, they failed to follow a requirement under the 2013 law to combat bullying that a school must form a third-party panel for investigation should “serious situations” of bullying develop.

The school’s inaction prompted the parents to report the money problem to the police. But even after the police — based on their interviews with the boy and the bullies — told the school that he paid them ¥1.5 million, the school would not act and turned down a request from the parents to hold a meeting of people from both the victim’s and the bullies’ sides. The board of education took no action, either.

The parents eventually asked the board of education last December to take action on the basis of the 2013 law’s provision. This month, a third-party committee accordingly formed issued a report that determined the bullying against the boy began soon after he moved to Yokohama and condemned the school and the board of education, stating that their attitude was tantamount to “abandonment of education.”

The slow response of the teachers at the school and board of education officials demonstrates their lack of empathy toward the boy and other people who have experienced great suffering. They should be the first to be educated about the plight of Fukushima residents. The Yokohama case also suggests that parents should not hesitate to rely on lawyers and the police if school officials and boards of education are unresponsive to their complaints about bullying.


EDITORIAL: Board’s failure to disclose facts hurts efforts to prevent bullying



The Yokohama municipal board of education is failing to provide effective support to schools and teachers struggling with the problem of bullying. Specifically, the board is withholding valuable information about a high-profile case of bullying against a boy from disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture.

The education board has instructed municipal elementary, junior and senior high schools in the city to make “exhaustive efforts” to tackle the problem. But the board is not offering many of the important facts it has learned about the case involving the boy, who transferred to a Yokohama elementary school for safety after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The board’s instructions were based on the recommendations of an independent committee, which was asked by the board to investigate the case under the law to promote measures to prevent bullying.

The board’s decision is puzzling. Of the committee’s 26-page report, only seven pages concerning the committee’s recommendations and the table of contents have been published. And even the pages that have been published include many blacked-out parts.

The published document offers few of the vital facts on which the committee’s recommendations were based. It does not include information on what kind of problematic behavior was involved, how the school and the education board regarded the situation, and what actions they actually took.

The victim became a target of bullying after he moved to Yokohama with his family to escape the possible health hazards following the nuclear accident.

Some classmates at his new school attached “kin,” which means “germ,” to his name, suggesting he was contaminated. The boy started refusing to attend classes after years of cruel treatment, including being made to pay money to the bullies so they could play arcade games. His tormentors said the boy’s family was being well-compensated by the government for the nuclear disaster.

The details that set this case apart from ordinary school bullying stories have been revealed mostly by the boy’s lawyers at news conferences. These pieces of information do not appear in the published report.

Both the school and the education board were adequately aware of the serious bullying case. Why did they fail to view what was happening as a grave situation?

Teachers can learn real lessons from the case only if they know the details of what actually transpired, including exchanges between people involved and how the school hesitated to take effective action.

The head of the education board said it decided to publish only parts of the report out of consideration to the effects of full disclosure on the children’s “future growth.”

Such consideration is, of course, necessary, given that both the victim and the abusers are still junior high school students.

But the board’s decision has gone beyond a reasonable degree of consideration to the well-being of the children.

The board’s handling of the report raises suspicions that it is trying to conceal the mistakes committed by the school and the board itself.

Since the law to prevent school bullying came into effect, independent committees have compiled similar reports on bullying cases for more than 10 municipalities.

Many of these reports cited such problems as insufficient sharing of information within the schools and teachers’ isolated efforts to deal with the situation.

But few of them delved into the causes and backgrounds of the bullying incidents. There is much room for improvement in the system.

Summaries of reports have been published to emphasize important facts while giving consideration to privacy issues. The Yokohama municipal government should try to learn from such efforts of other local governments.

Vital information included in reports on bullying cases should be shared among schools so they can identify the causes of the mistakes made and improve their own responses to such situations.

Unless this mechanism is firmly established, the system does little to prevent a recurrence.



Parents irate over tardy responses to Fukushima evacuee bullied at school


YOKOHAMA -- The parents of a boy who was bullied at his school here after evacuating from the Fukushima nuclear disaster expressed their anger at education authorities' slow responses to the case, as they met media representatives on Nov. 23.

"They were tardy in every way. They wouldn't listen to our complaints and our distrust in them only grew stronger," one of the parents said about measures taken by the elementary school the boy attended and the Yokohama Municipal Board of Education, which had ignored the case for over a year.

The boy, who is now 13, was bullied at an elementary school in Yokohama after he transferred there from Fukushima Prefecture. "Our son's right to receive an education was infringed upon. We regret that he couldn't have a good time together with his friends," one of the parents -- both in their 40s -- said.

Recalling the time their son was being bullied, one of the parents said, "The way our son was bullied would have made it look only natural if he had taken his own life. He was torn apart." They continued, "We'd like to let people know our son's words, 'You can't speak out if you die. There should definitely be adults out there who will help you.'"

The boy's classmates started demanding he give money to them in May 2014, saying, "You have compensation money (for nuclear disaster victims), don't you?" The boy's father studied the provisions of a law to promote measures to prevent bullying and demanded that the school respond to the case under the law, arguing that the transaction of some 1.5 million yen between children would constitute a "serious situation." However, the school didn't take the case seriously and even sometimes spoke on the premise that "the boy was paying the money (to the bullies) on his own initiative," the father said. "We had no way out. We just felt helpless."

A note the boy wrote when he was in the sixth grade reads in part, "I thought about killing myself time and again. But then I thought I would live on even though it's hard because so many people died in the quake disaster (in 2011)." The note, which was highly publicized after its release recently, was written in front of his mother in July 2015, according to the parents. The boy had already stopped attending school by then.

"I was at a loss for words" from being shocked at what he wrote, the mother said. "In case of a worst-case scenario, I made sure to stay with him always," she said. When he wrote the note, the boy tore pages from a notebook on a desk and took his mood out on them, resulting in the poor handwriting, according to the mother.

The boy's character and way of thinking changed after the nuclear disaster, the parents said. "He used to be an ordinary boy who would depend on his parents, but he started to put up with things. We guess he couldn't tell us what he was going through at his school after transferring there."

The school used to give consideration to children who evacuated from Fukushima voluntarily right after the boy started attending the school, but such measures stopped after he was in the fourth grade. "I asked my son's homeroom teacher if they had ever studied the psychology of children who underwent a disaster, and the teacher replied no.'"

The city education board has yet to disclose the details of the bullying case. "The school and the education board appear to be trying to put a lid on the problem just to protect themselves. We believe they are not only trying to avoid specifying the bullies and the victim," the mother said.

The boy currently attends an alternative school and has come to tell his parents that he wants to ride a bicycle on holidays. The parents quoted the boy as saying, "To those who are bullied like I was, I want them to live on no matter how much the pain."


Fukushima evacuee bullied by Yokohama classmates issues appeal against suicide


YOKOHAMA – A 13-year-old boy in Yokohama who was bullied by classmates after evacuating from nuclear crisis-hit Fukushima has made public plea urging young people suffering a similar ordeal not to consider death as the answer to their problems.

“There are adults who will definitely be there to help. It is painful but please do not choose to die,” the boy said in a message conveyed by his parents at a news conference in Yokohama, where he was harassed while at elementary school.

The identity of the boy, now in junior high school, is being withheld by the media, but the case has highlighted the need to do more for young evacuees from Fukushima around the country.

The parents, in their 40s, said their son, who had stopped going to school and often stayed home due to bullying, has started to go outdoors recently.

They said he told them that he now enjoyed going to his current free school, an alternative school for children who cannot attend classes at traditional schools for various reasons.

“My child is starting to see the light,” his father said.

His mother said: “My son was really devastated. I think he is still suffering.

“I want children to have compassion for others and teachers to teach them to develop it,” she added.

Five months after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the boy joined the school as a second-grader in August 2011 and soon became a target of bullying. He started missing school when in the third grade.

According to a report of a third-party panel of the city’s board of education released earlier this month, the boy was mocked with names such as “germ,” referring to the nuclear contamination caused by the disaster, and was physically assaulted.

When he was in the sixth grade, the boy wrote in his notes, “I feel terrible as I’m treated like a germ and I know it’s because of the radiation.”

His notes went on to say, “I thought of killing myself many times but I decided to live because so many people have died” in the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

The boy said he told his teachers about the bullying but was ignored. In the report, the school and board, which only began investigating the case last December, were criticized for their slow response in addressing the issue.

The father said, “I want them to explain why they could not deal” properly with the case. Neither the board nor the school has offered the family an apology.

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