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Yokohama admits Fukushima boy's paying classmates result of bullying

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) -- The Yokohama education board admitted Monday that a 13-year-old boy's payments of money to his classmates were the result of his being bullied when he was at a local primary school after being evacuated from Fukushima due to the 2011 nuclear disaster.

    Yuko Okada, chief of the municipal education board, reversed her previous stance on the incident and apologized at a press conference, following criticism of her earlier statement that she could not determine whether the payments were related to bullying.

    "We did not embrace his feeling properly, and we are sorry that it took this long to admit it," she said. "In accordance with the purpose of the law (aimed at preventing bullying at schools), we admit the incident as part of the bullying and will work on prevention."

    The boy paid a total of 1.5 million yen ($13,000) on multiple occasions, according to his family.

    The student paid money to some of his school classmates for leisure activities, such as playing arcade games, when he was a fifth grader after they demanded he did so, saying his family must have received government compensation related to the nuclear accident, according to a report compiled by a third-party panel of the education board in November.

    The report said the boy presumably paid money to avoid being bullied. It did not recognize the payments themselves as bullying, but admitted there were acts of bullying, such as his being called him "germ" in reference to nuclear contamination.

    On Jan. 20, Okada said at the city assembly's committee session that the board was not able to determine the payments of money as the result of bullying, based on the school's hearings with students involved.

    Okada held Monday's press conference after the student's lawyer on the same day submitted the boy's letter to Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi requesting a meeting with her.

    "Why does the Yokohama education board see only part of (the incident) and not the whole picture," the student wrote in the letter addressed to the mayor.

    "Why did the school make the decision without listening to what the victim's side said but with only listening to what the victimizers' side said...I would like to know why and I hope you will listen to my story," he wrote.

    The boy joined a Yokohama elementary school as a second grader in August 2011 but after being called "germ" he began missing school in the third grade, according to the report.

    The boy's parents told the school in May 2014 that their son was a victim of bullying and told police in July that he was involved in the money trouble with his classmates.

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